Dec. 2nd, 2018
There is a lot of debate surrounding today’s technological advancements. With rising numbers of kids with ADHD, less time spent outside, and the human attention span seeing a rapid decline, technology is constantly front and center as the blame. “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, an essay written by Nicholas Carr, describes the negative effects that modern technologies, more specifically the internet, have on our brains. Today, we are used to a certain instant satisfaction in terms of our access to the internet. The world wide web, is indeed useful, but there are also many side effects that come from this. One of these effects that Carr describes on his essay is that this method of information gathering does concentration and memory no justice. In fact, many recent studies have shown that in the modern technology age, technology and the internet are probably linked to the downfall in the length and ability a person is able to concentrate. With endless data available to us with little no work on our end, the brain is not used to the same capacity that it used to be needed for, and human intelligence has in turn seen an unfortunate steady decline.
One argument against the production of more and more technology is that some believe it has a direct correlation to the rising number of kids dealing with ADHD. It is undeniable that number of cases involving ADHD are on the rise, the only question is that of the cause. A study done by the JAMA Network and the Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents, raised this question; is frequent use of modern digital media platforms, such as social media, associated with the increasing occurrence of ADHD symptoms during adolescence? According to Carr, “people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media.” (Carr 577) Right now, logging on to any social media leads to an instant sensory overload. Widgets, posts, and ads make for a busy screen and something for our eyes to always be drawn to. Because of this, Carr points out, that “traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations” (Carr 577). He claims that this adaptation is directly because of the lower attention spans he has noticed. Following this, Carr gives the example of the New York Times dedicating the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, giving readers a quick taste of information without the hassle of turning pages and reading full articles. This example is just one of many like it. The JAMA Network study aforementioned, backed this claim. They found that among adolescents followed up over 2 years, there was a statistically significant but modest association between higher frequency of digital media use and subsequent symptoms of ADHD. Meaning that more frequent use of digital media may be associated with development of ADHD symptoms, but further research is needed to assess whether the association is causal.
Along with declining attention spans among adolescents and teens, there also is a noticeable increasing trend in screen time among children. Is the technology to blame? A recent study of 4,500 8-10 year old U.S. children, from The Lancet and their Child & Adolescent Health department, showed that on average the participants slept 9.1 hours per night, had 3.6 hours of recreational screen time per day and hit the physical activity goal 3.7 days per week. The researchers found that as each recommendation was met by a participant, there was a positive association with “global cognition”, which includes memory, attention, processing speed and language. Those who met all three had the most "superior global cognition”, followed by those meeting the sleep and screen time recommendation and finally the screen time recommendation alone, according to the study. This study and others like it claim that
Some advocates of modern technology might argue that increased screen time has increased time spent reading. Our intake of information increased, therefore we must be smarter because of it. However, Scott Karp, who was quoted by Carr in his essay, describes the current human condition in a very simple and relatable way; “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?” (Carr 578) People rely more on a quick skim through a reading rather than sitting down with a book. Rather than really digesting the knowledge that each story, each sentence, each word holds. Does it really matter that we read more, if those words are meaningless posts on the internet?
Not only do we need to consider the effects technology has on our daily lives, but we should also take into consideration the fact that technology has permeated it’s way into our classrooms as well. Educational apps allow for students to progress at their own pace. Many are adaptive, meaning that questions and problems will get easier or more difficulty, depending on student performance. Programs can adjust to meet students at their precise learning levels. In addition, the multitude of apps and software available means that students in the same classroom might be using different systems to learn similar material, depending on their interests and learning. Additionally, incorporating technology into the classroom means that students have exposure and access to different ways of learning. Maybe some students do thrive in a lecture environment; others might be great independent learners, who can gather information from educational software. Giving students the choice of different ways to learn means they’ll likely explore and try different techniques, and in the end, learn the best strategies for themselves as individual learners. And educational technology makes it possible for students with special needs to thrive in academic settings. From adaptive word processor apps to programs that speak for children who struggle with language, technology allows students to communicate and be involved with their teachers and classmates.
However, where there are pros to technology in the classroom there are also some cons. Many tech enthusiasts roll their eyes when people voice their concerns that educational technology is a way to replace teachers in the future. But do their concerns lack validity? You don’t have to look too far in the past to find instances of technology replacing workers: the auto industry, agriculture, and manufacturing industries have all mechanized many parts of their process, laying off workers in the process. While few people think that teachers will become obsolete, the newest advances in educational technology are powerful enough to deliver content, assesses, and set students on a new course of learning, all without teacher intervention. What does that mean for the future of teaching? Another huge blow to the classroom dynamic is that technology can be majorly distracting. This is probably the number one worry of teachers who consider implementing classroom technology: the concern that students will be too busy tweeting and Snapchatting to pay attention to the lesson. Students’ innate curiosity, coupled with their tech savvy could lead to more online socializing in environments where devices are easily accessible.
With rising cases of ADHD, less time spend outdoors in comparison to in front of a screen, and more skimming over words instead of wrestling with them, it really is hard to tell what is caused by technology and what is caused by human nature. There are those who have a tendency to glorify every modern technological advancement, but there’s also those who tend to expect the worst of every new tool or machine. Carr quotes Plato’s Phaedrus, specifically when Socrates had expressed his discontentment for the new developments of writing at his time. He greatly feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads and pass through spoken words, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” (Carr 578) Socrates wasn’t entirely wrong in his thinking. The new technology did often have the negative effects that he had feared. However, he lacked foresight into the issue and because of that, he couldn’t foresee the numerous ways that reading and writing would serve to spread information, spur on new and fresh ideas, and to expand human knowledge. We can communicate more efficiently than ever, with studies still to come on whether this is a positive advancement or if it is setting us up for failure as a species as we grow more dependent on technology, forgetting the power of our own brains.
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