Even those of us who remember a time before the internet can’t always relate to it. How did we live when there were no mobile phones and the only way to contact someone was to ring them up or write them a letter? From today’s perspective, it seems so profoundly strange that that is how we used to live our lives.
Technology came thick and fast over the last two decades, totally upending our society in the process. Not only do we have new jobs, but also a whole new language with which to contend. In the year 2000, nobody had heard of the cloud, smartphones, virtual computing, machine learning, cognitive systems, and server farms. It just wasn’t a part of the lexicon.
Oh, how things change!
Progress has been too fast for some. Technology seems to jump exponentially, but our ability to adapt to it changes linearly. Think about it: in the space of a few short years, we went from corded landline phones to supercomputers in our pockets.
The processing power inside these units grew a thousand-fold in the space of just ten years, producing profound changes for every aspect of life. But it wasn’t only the components under the hood that evolved – the interface did too. Many of us forget that cell phones used to have physical buttons that you had to compress with your fingers. You didn’t have a touch screen, and you couldn’t give voice commands. Technologies like that seemed fabulously futuristic.
Today, you can still buy a seniors mobile phone with large buttons. And the fact that products like this exist is reassuring. They confirm the fact that there are companies out there who understand that the pace of change is dizzying, and not everyone wants to keep up.
Living in this digital age is having a profound impact on our basic psychology. Researchers have found that technology is changing the structures of our brains in ways that nobody predicted at the outset. Some of the developments are alarming, while others are welcome.
We Forget More Than We Once Did
Researchers have found that millennials are more forgetful than baby boomers – many of whom are more than twice their age.
The reason for this, they suggest, comes back to technology.
Typically, when you want to remember something, you have to take time to move it from working memory to long-term storage. Usually, that requires some conscious effort and a pause in the incoming stream of data.
The problem with smartphone feeds, though, is that they don’t provide any natural breaks. Apps continuously stream notifications and fresh information. People don’t have time to move new knowledge from their working memory to their long-term storage. And that is what ultimately leads to the epidemic of forgetfulness we see today.
We’re Neglecting Face-To-Face Interactions
Face-to-face interactions used to be the order of the day. But with the introduction of smartphones, that’s becoming less common. They are undermining our ability to interact with each other, even when we are in the same room.
You’ve probably seen this sort of thing in action yourself. You’re with a group of other people, apparently “socializing,” but everyone is glued to their screens.
The reason for this, researchers, think, is the feel-good hit that people get every time they receive a message, Facebook like or news update. Smartphones tap into basic reward processes in the brain and get people hooked.
But that’s not the only reason why we might be seeing this kind of behavior in social settings. It could also be the fact that checking your phone in a social situation is a socially acceptable way to temporarily remove yourself from an interaction, making it less intense. Clearly, more science is needed, but phones are making a difference.
Our Attention Spans Are Going Down
Researchers think that the average person had an attention span of around twelve seconds before tablet computers and smartphones came along. That doesn’t sound like very much – and it wasn’t – but it is better than the situation today. Researchers think that attention spans might be as low as 8 seconds now, and it all has to do with distractions.
Humans naturally seek novelty. Our big brains lap up new information and feed it through structures that allow us to interpret the world. Getting new information in the past, though, was a structured experience. When the time came to eat or work, you separated yourself from the other aspects of your life and focused on those tasks.
With the advent of modern mobile technology , though, that’s no longer the case. Devices are always there, regularly pinging, telling you that there’s something that you need to check. Hundreds of apps and smart algorithms combine to drip-feed stimulation throughout the day, making it almost impossible to concentrate on any single task.
People who manage to block out the outside world and focus solely on the task at hand put themselves at a considerable advantage in the marketplace. There’s a need for people able to do “deep work” in an environment of constant interruptions. Those who can pull it off often earn more.
We’ve Started Dreaming In Colour
Our eyes perceive the world in color, so you would think that our dreams would be colorful, too, just naturally. But when researchers looked into the phenomenon, they found something interesting. People who grew up in households with black and white TVs tended to dream in monochrome too. By contrast, those with color TVs report that their dreams were also colorful.
FOMO Is Going Up
The “fear of missing out” is a real psychological experience for many people. It’s a sort of combination of anxiety, a personal sense of inadequacy, and annoyance that flares up when browsing the social media feeds of other people. Users wind up feeling genuinely sad that other people in the world are having fun, and they’re not. Plus, they invariably wind up viewing pictures of people and things that remind them of sad events in the past.