Are Smartphones Making us Dumber?
Your smartphone is indeed, very smart. In fact, at an event last week during which Motorola introduced a new lineup of Droids, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said they’re actually better than desktop PCs.
"[I]f you think about it, this is an even more powerful computer because it has a location and it's something that you carry with you all the time." he said.
There’s no doubt people carry these supercomputers with them everywhere. But is that a good thing?
Forbes featured a post this week that asked the interesting question, “Are smartphones making us dumber?”
While author Katherine Ellison quotes a neuroscientist in the story who says he’s unaware of studies that prove the affirmative, there are plenty of people writing about the subject, giving their books titles such as “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age,” and “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.”
Maybe no one has yet measured actual decline in intelligence or ability to focus due to the flashing and pinging screens we seem to constantly look at, indirect evidence suggests there’s reason to worry.
Ellison points to studies conducted at the University of California at Irvine in which a researcher found that people who work on computers switch tasks every three minutes and flit between windows to check email or surf the web 37 times an hour, on average. Another UC Irvine study done in collaboration with the U.S. Army found that after five days without email 13 office workers were found to be multi-tasking less, less stressed, and more able to focus.
Brain and behavior studies aside, smartphones are definitely a tool many people use to behave in incredibly stupid ways.
Texting while driving, walking and biking can kill people. Everyone in the developed world knows it, yet this dangerous behavior persists. If you’ve spent any time driving since the advent of the smartphone my bet is you’ve seen someone texting, emailing or otherwise tapping on their device while driving, and you’ve probably seen them swerve out of their lane while doing it.
My son’s school is only a few miles from our house but the idea of him biking there is absolutely out of the question because of the very real possibility he will be hit by a car because of all the idiots driving while messing with their phones. When I was a kid, paying attention to the road was drivers’ modus operandi.
Speaking of texting, how about people who use shorted text language like "u" for "you" in an email message or some other non-text medium. In my opinion, if you’re using a keyboard off of which words can speedily fly, there’s really no reason to shorten them. Yet acronyms such as OMG and LOL are ubiquitous and reflect the degradation of our language. Just flip through any classic book written more than 100 years ago and compare it to whatever's top on The New York Times Best Sellers list. The way we write and speak has evolved into something that's much more simple and streamlined. While some might argue that's a good thing, many readers today have a difficult time with vintage prose.
Another thing I see all the time is little children—at a playground, for example—in the presence of an adult paying little to no attention to them, instead glued to his or her phone. Every time I see this I want to inform the individual about the oft-forgotten fact that time flies; in no time the little angel will be in college. Not only that, our kids get smarter the more we talk to them. I've even seen public service announcements regarding this problem posted in the Midwestern city in which I live. It's sad that parents today need to be told to put down their devices and interact with their kids.
And where etiquette used to mean saying “please” and “thank you” or holding the door for a lady, today people need manners training regarding the myriad of aggravating ways they use their phones. Consider the clueless person talking on her phone in confined public spaces such as the table right next to yours, or holding up the line at a store because of tapping or talking on their phones, or worst (in my book)—when you’re having an in-person conversation with someone who keeps checking his or her phone.
So are our smartphones making us dumber? Even if scientists can't prove it, I say in practice there’s no question.