What happens to our mind, when it has been freed from the necessity of remembering many life’s trinkets and the ability to cope with some problems?
Anyone who has ever experienced to wear a cast for six weeks can certainly remember that after taking it off he needed a few weeks to get back to normal. We have to rebuild and strengthen our muscles. The same happens when we force the brain to work harder and harder it develops, however, there is a possibility of a decrease.
“To put it simply, the unused organ shrink. In general, our brain is constantly changing because of how we use it, “says Professor Dr. Manfred Spitzer. “The more our brain learned at an early age and the more varied the information was, the more efficient it will be in our adulthood. This is easily explained by the example: if we managed to master three languages when entering adulthood, then the fourth one will be learned much faster than someone who only speaks their mother tongue. In the same way, a person who has mastered the game on several musical instruments will learn to play the next instrument faster than someone who is just starting his adventure with music”
The more data, the larger the capacity
According to Professor Spitzer, the reason for these dependencies is the unique architecture of the human brain. It is not constant, as in the case of a computer disk. Our brain is still trying to create new connections between neurons when the old ones turn out to be insufficient. This organ is constantly undergoing internal changes, that is why it constantly develops. The more we think and the more we absorb information, the easier this process becomes. In simple terms, this means that the more knowledge is “anchored” in our head, the greater our mental capacity is. This means that if we rely more and more on the computer and/or smartphone, the less busy our brain is, and thus the less information is absorbed. The point is that the mind loses “capacity”, which in turn negatively affects our memory and performance. In this context, Manfred Spitzer speaks of “digital dementia”. In his best-selling novel, he described very closely the consequences of excessive use of digital media by young people.
According to Spitzer, young brains are degraded instead of being upgraded, which makes learning new skills or acquiring new knowledge very difficult. So, with the increasing automation and increasing degree of computer presence in our lives, are we becoming more and more stupid? The fact is that universal access to the computer and the Web has changed forever the way many professions are being performed. Can you imagine architects who suddenly stop using AutoCAD in favor of pencil and graph paper? And the pilots who suddenly decide to give up using all computer instruments to navigate and control the plane? One thing is certain: we have been dependent on computers to such an extent that if we stopped using them, our lives without them would be incomplete. Using computers has resulted in permanent changes in our civilization, and as a result – our capabilities have also changed.
Aerospace experts have found, for example, that many pilots would not be able to pilot an airplane without automating many activities by the onboard computer. First, they simply forgot how to react to certain situations by themselves without using a computer, and secondly, the current planes do not resemble those from the beginning of aviation history, because they are packed with electronics. All our knowledge is currently stored in electronic form. Thanks to this, we can quickly get the information we are looking for, or checking something that we have recently forgotten is fast and easy. We are limited only by the software capabilities. But do we still remember the date of birth of friends? Neurobiologist Dr. Gerald Huther sees a lot of positives in the current situation. – Computers can not think for themselves, they just provide us with the data we need. Huther sees many advantages in using computers. – Thanks to digital devices, we can do things that would not have been possible before. We can monitor operations and key procedures on an ongoing basis. As long as we use computers for things that we could not do without them, it’s not bad.
Huther also compares computers to the steam engine: the discovery and development of steam engines was the most important milestone of the eighteenth century. Facilitating something that we could achieve without a computer, putting much more effort into it, is a positive change. But the scholar also notes that we must learn to use the spare capacity of our minds – this very important skill sets us apart from other animal species.
Dr. Martin Korte also rejects the black and white approach when it comes to using new technologies. “If we use GPS navigation only in certain cases, then our brain also learns. For example, how GPS works. How do you enter your destination in such a way that you get there as soon as possible? Do I prefer to choose the shortest route, or maybe one that will cause my car to emit less exhaust while driving? This is a decision that we must take before we enter the right data into the computer, thanks to which it will offer us effective support when planning a trip. And if we can not indicate the specific purpose of our trip, then all this technology will not be useful to us.
Korte does not condemn the use of search engines: to find the information we are really looking for, we must have the right knowledge before we commission a search engine. Our cognitive skills are therefore able to develop during the proper usage of new technologies. If we are still aware of what we are doing with a computer, we should not do any damage to our mental abilities. Korte warns against using new technologies by younger users. – Children must first develop their cognitive skills so that they can start using the computer properly without harming their mental development.
The correct use of technology
Using a computer as the only source of knowledge can have negative consequences, which has been proven by American psychologists Daniel Wegner and Adrian Ward. Researchers have found that people who rely primarily on the Internet to obtain information consider themselves smarter than they really are. For this they have a weaker memory: if any information is always at your fingertips (or rather a smartphone), it makes no sense to remember anything, right? Korte also adds that people who only use the Internet to acquire knowledge very often cannot distinguish sources from reliable content from those that present worthless information – this is one of the reasons for the enormous popularity of conspiracy theories on the Web.
When searching for information on the Internet, we should still remember about their verification, including by checking their sources. Uncritical belief in any information found on the Web is a very bad habit, which you have to break up with as soon as possible. When using knowledge from search engines, you should also remember to not neglect your memory and exercise. You can do it in many ways. Most are very pro-like: it is worth to learn, for example, the phone numbers of our loved ones. Instead of making a shopping list, let’s just remember what we need to buy at home. Some games also prove to be a great way to practice memory – one of the most recommended by specialists is Trivial Pursuit. The most important, however, is to treat the computer only as our support – if we start to rely 100% on the machines, it will negatively affect our mental capabilities.