A few classes ago, it was mentioned that our brains have evolved and changed over time. We now live in a world of smartphones, iPads, Twitter and more, so much more that we are constantly inundated with technology. While the recent revolution in technology allows us to do wonderful and incredible things, for example, video chatting with family who are far away, it has also been proposed that technology is taking a toll on our brains. A New York Times article from 2010 entitled “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price” outlines the story of Kord Campbell, a businessperson with an internet startup company. It is Mr. Campbell’s job to work on the internet, but he’s not immune to the pull of “multitasking”. On one of his three monitors that are constantly open, he follows a feed of over 1,000 people on twitter. Mr. Campbell has missed important business emails and meetings in the constant wave of technology that sweeps over his desk. When not on the internet, he gets fidgety and cranky. Indeed, researchers have compared the motivation to be connected to technology to the drive for drugs. Technology also increases the frequency of multitasking, which, as it turns out, doesn’t work very well. A study described in the NYT article showed that people classified as “heavy multitaskers” had more difficulty blocking out irrelevant information and took longer to switch between tasks. Technology, for all its benefits, may be undermining our ability to pay attention.
However, it is too soon to say if changes in our lifestyles and cognition due to technology are all good or all bad. For example, people who play certain types of video games develop better visual acuity, while research has suggested that internet users are better at finding information than non-internet users. And of course, we have to keep in mind the social benefits to technology. The very science that developed video games that distract countless teens from their homework has also allowed for virtual reality technologies that are used in therapy and, more recently, in fMRI studies of the brain. Despite problems caused by technology, we certainly benefit from it as well. Will problems in attention caused by technology continue to create problems for us? It seems that the only answer we have now is to wait and see, if we can pay attention long enough.