Have you ever had one of these moments? You are in the middle of typing an e-mail and you suddenly wonder if you’ve gotten any text messages lately. You check your phone and then decide while you are at it, you might as well check Facebook. As you are doing that, the song you were listening to on iTunes shuffles to one you don’t really like, so you click “next” a few times until it lands on something more enjoyable. This reminds you that you haven’t checked your favorite music website in a bit, so you open up a new tab in Firefox, adding to the seven you already had going. At this point, the e-mail is long forgotten.
The above is an example of what an increasing number of studies are finding on the (rather alarming) effects the proliferation of digital devices is having on our lives. Our ability to focus, to do one thing at a time, is slipping away.
According to a story published Nov. 21 in The New York Times, the lure of these technologies affects all segments of the population, but influences teenagers the strongest. In fact, the article says, researchers are worried all the screentime is raising a generation of people whose brains are wired differently.
It’s a wiring geared toward constantly switching tasks, which all too often just means not being able to complete any one thing. The article quotes a 17-year-old who says he feels like the multitude of digital distractions exacerbates his natural inclination toward procrastination. However, the teenager is also an aspiring filmmaker who has harnessed technology to already begin making, editing and broadcasting his films.
This underlines the dilemma of our digital world. The reigning conventional wisdom is that having a blackberry and twitter account are the tools of success, that the ability to harness the multi-tasking potential of technology is critical.
So, which lesson do we teach our students and where do we draw the line for ourselves?
It’s a difficult question and I’m sure it will only become more difficult and complicated going forward. Increasingly, we are leading two lives — one digital and one physical. What we give to one and give up for the other is no easy choice.
However, it’s choice, I think, that is what really matters here. You actually don’t have to respond to that e-mail right away or make sure you see every single funny video of a cat on the Internet. In fact, recent studies have shown boredom is vital for our brains to be able to permanently record and store information.
As our technology demands more and more from us, it’s important to remember no matter how advanced our devices become, they still contain a basic innovation — the “off” switch.
Frank Johnson is a reporter for The Kentucky Standard in Bardstown.