Are smart phones making us smarter?

Are smart phones making us smarter?

Depending on your age, you will probably find it humorous to think that just 25 years ago to do research, you went to the library, checked some index cards and found books or articles written at least a year or more ago to get the information to write your paper. Today, most of us in

Depending on your age, you will probably find it humorous to think that just 25 years ago to do research, you went to the library, checked some index cards and found books or articles written at least a year or more ago to get the information to write your paper. Today, most of us in America live in a different world. According to the Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 64 percent of us own a smartphone and 91 percent own some sort of mobile device. Thus, we have immediate access to the latest information in a matter of seconds.

The question is whether smartphones are making us smarter or dumber? Most of us can’t imagine life without one. We research online information such as news, health conditions, employment resources, driving directions, e-mails and almost any information we need quickly. Most of us however, don’t use our phones for online access. Only 19 percent of Americans do. Those who do tend to be younger – 15 percent are 18- to 29-year-olds, with lower household income and usually non-white, 13 percent of Latinos and 12 percent of African-Americans are Smartphone-dependent.

Many experts argue having access to information quickly makes us smarter, but it can also make us lazier, more distracted and some believe addicted. A University of Waterloo study of 660 participants with smartphones found more analytical thinkers with stronger “cognitive” skills use search engines less than others. They also have a greater willingness to think analytically.

In 2012 the New York Times reported that while teachers observed access to technology in general had improved student’s research skills, it also had a detrimental effect on student attention spans, so they paid less attention in class, wrote less effectively, and lost some of their ability to think critically.

Mary Dickerson, executive director of IT security and the chief information security officer at the University of Houston believes these gadgets are not making us smarter or dumber. “They are changing the way we get and process information,” she says. “Today the way we get information and how we communicate with others is different. We have more access to information but we also have to vet it differently and how we communicate with other people is less likely to be a face-to-face conversation with someone.”

Dickerson is concerned with how we have to make a conscious effort not to be distracted and “that is difficult, because the expectation today is that you have to be available 24 hours a day, even if on vacation. We have to be able to get off the grid, but how do we do it?”

“Whether smartphones are making us smarter or dumber is not the right question to ask. The gadget is not the problem; how the operator uses it can be,” says psychotherapist Nan Hall Linke, who has been practicing since 1971 and has seen the impact of technology in her clients.

“Many people today have become too available, reactive and addicted to a machine rather than engaging in human communication. They have become narcissistic, demanding instant gratification, without much empathy or capacity to deal with other people. People also don’t know how to disengage from these gadgets. Many even sleep with them. I also know people who have been fired for not answering their phone 24 hours a day,” says Hall Linke. “I see the advantage for those who use it effectively, to gather information and in moderation.”

A recent Pew study found most Americans feel better informed thanks to the internet, with 87 percent reporting the internet and cell phones have improved their ability to learn new things. But Loanni Thomas Pavlidis Ph.D, a professor in the University of Houston’s Computational Physiology Lab, has noticed students are having a more difficult time paying attention and doing one task that requires concentration for a longer period of time. “It is a great tool if you know how to use it, but many become addicted and we don’t yet know the long-term implications for the younger generation. There is a lot of research going on about the negative implications if we continue like this,” says Pavlidis.

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