How Technology Has Changed the Way We Think

Guest Post: This post was written by James Lander of the consumer savings site, Couponing. The site offers couponing etiquette and tips.

There can be no doubt that recent rapid advances in technology have affected the world we live in and how most of us conduct our day-to-day lives. However, few of us ever think about the impact of these developments on our own internal processes. Once you delve into this complex, sometimes unnerving idea, though, it becomes apparent that technology has had a major impact on our brains and our selves.

Much of the major research in this field has been publicized by one man, Nicholas Carr, who has written a book and several articles on the subject of how technology changes the way its users think. He writes not only about how technology has affected our most basic mannerisms, but how it affects the actual function of our brains.

Our brains are extremely malleable and adapt quickly to changes in how they receive and process information. Even people who were born before the technology boom and whose brains are well-accustomed to activities like reading long books can be quickly converted to Internet users who tend to quickly scan articles and, just as quickly, forget what they have read. Our brains love to learn new information and if they get used to a constant stream of new data, they can “forget” how to synthesize it and make it stick.

With everything online becoming faster, snappier, and more connected to each other, readers are – consciously or subconsciously – encouraged to get their information quickly and move on. In addition, with the advent of smart phones and tablets with their smaller screens and on-the-go capabilities, users almost require that content be brief enough to hit the major points only and not require a significant time commitment. Our brains, as we see more and more of this kind of content, get used to it and begin to crave only information in this style. When we see long articles and dense paragraphs, our brains respond by trying to “power-browse” and get the information in the same way they do from the punchy, bullet-pointed content they have grown accustomed to.

The part of our brains being affected by these changes is the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for short-term memory as well as decision-making. This area is increasingly the part of the brain where we take on information; once we start using this part of our brains, they will continue to seek and respond to the same stimuli. According to Carr, as we use and overuse the short-term memory part of our brains, we leave little energy for the other places we used to store information long-term. He says, “Our ability to learn suffers, and our understanding remains shallow.”

Similarly, advances in technology have allowed us all to stay more connected than every before. Whereas a century ago, people naturally expected correspondence to take days or even weeks between responses, email and portable Internet connections have made it possible to connect with each other almost instantly. While few would argue that this is overall a bad thing, since it allows us to stay connected to our work, families, and friends all over the world, there are some inherent issues which again have crept into how we live and what we think of as “normal” behavior.

Many busy executives and, increasingly, employees at every level have begun to suffer from an inability to turn their work mind “off”. Employees must be “on” at work, but many are now expected to remain on after business hours as well. Since we can all send emails and work on PowerPoint presentations as long as we’re awake, many people have gotten into the habit of never checking out of work, in the car, during dinner, and even in bed.

This increased connectivity may be dampening our abilities and work output, even as it becomes a more important part of being a successful employee. By feeling the need to have a response or finished product ready at the drop of a hat, our work is suffering. Technology has increased our ability to be fast and efficient, but this could be coming at the cost of solid work. At a certain point, some worry, having a fast answer is not as good as having a good answer.

Technology has had a huge impact on the lives of everyone today, and it cannot be said to be entirely positive or entirely negative. We must, as technology continues to advance and become integrated into our day-to-day lives, remain conscious of how it impacts the way we think, for better and for worse. For all the efficiency that technology can give us, we cannot let it completely eliminate what makes us human too.

Resources:

Alang, Navneet. “For Better and Worse, the Web is Changing How We Think.” Techi. 15 Jun. 2011.

Carr, Nicholas. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic. Jul./Aug. 2008.

Harris, John. “How the Internet is Altering Your Mind.” The Guardian. 9 Aug 2010.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “How Technology Has Changed the Way We Think

  1. Reblogged this on abubashars and commented:
    very well said sir! Thanx for providing great insights..

  2. kenneth lunkins

    hi bill
    i agree with the writers. i return to school last year and being a 62 yr old, i spend a lot f time watching the younger students, and how they act and respond to the professors and teachers. many set in class and play angry birds and surf the wed. when the instructor refers to text reading their eyes graze over. and after class they ask me where or what site do i get my info from. when i tell them books, their reply is “wow you read books”. and the school i attend is csu.

    • Hey Ken,

      LOL! Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with the blank stare/glazed look. Sad.

      Meant to say much before now, that I have great admiration for you in your scholastic journey. That was a giant, and a very courageous step.

      Best,

      Bill