How Is Modern Technology Affecting Human Development?
In the last few decades, technology has progressed at a staggering rate. Smartphones, the internet, cloud computing, and hundreds of other inventions are changing every facet of our lives. Communication, business, government, travel, fundraising, and even agriculture have been affected. But how about our brains? Is all this new technology changing us on the inside? Many think so, including psychology professionals. While research into this field is still in its infancy and there are no scientifically agreed-upon conclusions, there are several areas where modern digital technology is certainly affecting the way we interact with the world and the way our children’s brains develop. These areas include:
Evidence suggests that reliance on the internet and mobile technology is shortening our attention spans. One recent study found that our average attention span has decreased by 4 seconds, down from 12 to 8, which is shorter than that of a goldfish.† One possible reason for this decrease is the significant increase in options for distraction. When we all have computers in our pockets that allow us to play games, listen to music, and connect with friends whenever we want, why should we tolerate boredom? Of course, this shortened attention span likely comes with consequences. How many times do we miss important conversations or moments happening around us because we’re mesmerized by our electronic devices?
You need to buy a new car. What’s the first thing you do? If you’re like millions of others, you go online to do research. In fact, no matter what kind of a decision you need to make—whether you’re trying to figure out where to have dinner or the best way to start a new career—you can turn to the internet for advice. This means that we, as a species, no longer have to rely so much on gut instinct but can instead gather facts and knowledge in an effort to make informed decisions.
By 2020, 2.9 billion people are expected to be on social media.‡ Couple that with person-to-person messages sent with both traditional SMS texting and messaging apps and we’re radically changing the way we can build and maintain relationships. But is this a good or bad thing? If we’re at dinner with friends and are simultaneously texting a family member in California and Tweeting with acquaintances about an event in Japan, are we fully engaged in any of those relationships? Then again, doesn’t being able to stay connected with friends and family around the world keep relationships alive that might otherwise wither? Nearly 70% of Americans think the internet is good for our relationships,§ but it remains to be seen if children who are growing up with smartphones develop the kinds of interpersonal and relationship-building skills they need to form deep and meaningful relationships, or if our species will become isolated from—and uncomfortable with—close, personal contact.
The internet gives us access to a huge amount of information; plus, our personal computers can store every shopping list and stray thought we have, letting us access the information when we need it later. A new study finds that this “pervasive access to information has not only changed what we remember; it has changed how we remember.”** Our reliance on the internet has decreased our ability to easily retain facts. However, we appear to be improving our ability to remember where and how to locate information. For instance, we are now more likely to remember what folder we stored information in than we are to remember the information itself. Likewise, when faced with a question of fact, we are more likely to remember search terms that have helped us uncover answers to similar questions than we are to remember the fact itself.