Is technology harming our brains? | by Natalie Worth | Nov, 2023


Unlimited dopamine

The first is dopamine. The instant gratification we get from technology allows us to access dopamine frequently. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in our brain that makes us feel good. Essentially, it’s why we want the greasy, delicious hamburger over the green salad.

Dr. Anna Lembke, from Stanford University, studies addiction, and she says that because we are getting infinite access to dopamine through social media, we’re forming addictions to it. It’s why, on average, we spend 6 hours a day online and two and a half of those hours are spent on social media.

Dopamine also causes us to spend a lot of time in the limbic area of our brain, which is responsible for our emotions, instead of the pre-frontal cortex, which helps us plan for the future and problem-solve — not an ideal mix. And even worse, when we do get the chance to solve a problem, we’re offloading it to Google.

The Google Effect

Traditionally, we learn by committing information to memory, but because we can look up any information at any time, we don’t need to retain things in our own memory. We’re offloading our retention and memory to Google. In 2011, Harvard researchers coined the term ‘The Google Effect’ when they found that when we’re faced with a difficult question or problem, instead of knowing how to answer it ourselves, we’re instead really good at knowing where to find the answer — our trusty searching tool, Google.

Digital dementia

And the final point is why I deleted Instagram from my phone this week. It’s called digital dementia.

A Canadian University recently found that excessive use of screen time during brain development years increases our risk for Alzheimer’s and dementia in adulthood. They found that because we have this chronic sensory stimulation from social media, young adults are showing signs of ‘mild cognitive impairment,’ which is usually only seen in people with brain injuries or older adults when they have early stages of dementia.

These researchers also predict that at the end of this century, Alzheimer’s and dementia-related illnesses are expected to grow 4 to 6 times more than what they are now. Yikes!

So it’s not hard to imagine a world in 40 or 50 years — or scarily, even now — where we are suing TikTok or Instagram for the destruction of our minds. Basically, anyone born after 1980 will be affected by this. We will not be able to remember things, we won’t be able to process information, and it will be tough to focus.

It’s weird to think about when we’re still young and healthy, but I think if we’re honest with ourselves, many of us are probably feeling distracted or already have trouble remembering or are even addicted to our devices.

And, of course, not all technology is bad. It’s used for good every day. But there’s a difference between technology that helps us and hinders us.


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