Smartphones are the quintessential technology of the last decade. All of a sudden, the combination of miniaturization and increased computing power led to the ability for manufacturers to produce devices with the power of a 1990s supercomputer that would fit in the palm of your hand.
The technology itself is a monument to the human intellect and progress. However, the main concern now is “what is it doing to our brains?”
If you do a quick search on the internet for the effects of smartphones on the brain, you’ll find all sorts of negative stories. The device is responsible for everything from diminished grey matter to shorter attention spans.
However, there is a community of people looking at the smartphone in a more positive light. They see it as a kind of “brain extender” – something that is actually enhancing the human intellect and boosting our cognitive capacities.
In this post, we take a candid look at some of the things that smartphones are doing to our brains and what it really means.
They Are Reducing Our Memory Usage
Smartphones have vast memories. Because of this, they are reducing the extent to which we need to rely on our own.
If you go into your iPhone settings, for instance, you’ll see that it compartmentalizes different files into various compartments – photos, videos, other, etc. What is Other in iPhone storage? It’s mail attachments, voice memos and so on.
All this storage and ability to present data, therefore, is changing how we use our brains. What’s the point of remembering a schedule when it’s already listed in your phone? Why bother writing down and learning a language when you can simply get Google Translate to do it for you?
The fact that we’re outsourcing so many tasks to our phones is naturally leading to a decline in the extent to which we use our memories. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it means that we rely less on memory, it means that we also free up brain resources for other tasks. If we are not always worrying about the next thing in our schedule or memorizing random facts, then we can dedicate ourselves to the process.
They Are Improving Mindfulness
While some aspects of social media are toxic, others are positive. For example, we’re entering a smartphone-enabled era where mindfulness is now mainstream.
Smartphone technology is actually facilitating this change. Not only are people learning about how to achieve peace of mind online, but they are also downloading sophisticated apps to help them do it. Some people even get coaching through their devices, providing them with a powerful and positive way to start their day, even if they have stressful jobs or lead challenging lives.
They Are Changing How We Think
In the past, human beings spent their entire lifetimes accumulating information and then synthesizing it into knowledge and wisdom. However, with smartphones, that’s all changing. You essentially have the world’s biggest encyclopedia at your fingertips, ready to go whenever you require any new information.
This reduces the amount that we need to use our brains to obtain information. It also cuts down on the need to create new connections in the brain to retain what we’ve learned. If we forget something, we can simply look it up again. In other words, smartphone use makes knowledge acquisition more passive.
They Are Changing How We Interact
There was once a time that the only way to interact with another human being was to either send them a letter or go up and talk to them. But with smartphones, that’s changing. You can talk to anyone in the world, whenever you want.
This has positives and negatives. The positive is that the world is more open than ever before. You don’t just have to interact with people in your community.
The downside is that smartphones might be detracting from the richness of communicative experiences. When you’re texting someone, you can’t always see their facial expressions or the tone in which they are saying something.
The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to abandon your smartphone. After all, it is just a tool. Instead, the best approach is to simply prioritize real-life activities whenever you can. Designate time in your day or week to be “phone free” and, where possible, go back to the old ways of interacting with people and acquiring knowledge. Read books, explore nature and have in-person contact with people. Don’t rely on your device to do too much for you.