What happens to our brains on digital?

Unfortunately, it’s worse than you think.

Because it’s impacting our ability to think.

A recent podcast interviewed three researchers studying the long-term effects of digital interactions in this rapidly morphing and accelerating environment of distraction and overload.

There’s more to unpack than I can do justice here so let me pique your interest with a summary and quotes.

Remember: We have a limited supply of attention, focus and cognitive resources. Knowing that:

Skimming instead of reading

  • Has become an adaptive or survival strategy
  • Beneficial and required in the workplace
  • Taxes our ability to process and comprehend on a deeper level
  • Impacts our ability to ready deeply and integrate analysis to discern the truth, or lack of it

“Beauty goes missing when we are skipping and skimming and scrolling and word spotting” ~Maryanne Wolf

Social media is changing the nature of our attention

  • “Dark” or damaging patterns – infinite scroll, dopamine refreshes, engagement lures
  • Deliberate design influences disassociation: total absorption, flow or zone states
  • Rather than encouraging creative flow dissociation is redirected into gaming and other addictive online behaviors
  • If you don’t understand how you became tempted or lost, it’s not by accident

“Software developers have figured out that they can exploit this capacity when designing apps and devices to make money out of it” ~Nehal El-Hadi

Offline isn’t offline any more

  • While a few social media dalliances may seem trivial, the cumulative total adds up to experiences that affect how we spend the time in our lives as a whole
  • The result is a dramatic impact on our ability to live our lives aligned with our goals and values
  • Sites and services undermine our ability to deploy our attention in ways we would endorse for ourselves

“Our digital environments are stacked against us in terms of the way we spend our time and attention online” ~Kai Lukoff

The cognitive costs are mounting

  • “Media multitasking” is switching between different types of media or between online and offline
  • May be natural adaptation to tech environment created around us
  • Negatively affects cognitive control – the ability to effectively pay attention to task at hand
  • Comes with a “switch cost” and performance suffers on primary task – why texting while driving is outlawed
  • Social media generates “attentional residue:” our brains don’t forget and don’t clear our working memory when we go offline
  • Frequent switching, online interactions and attentional residue means a greater proportion of our working memory is consumed with these cognitive processes

“For every “you” there are a thousand or more engineers, developers and designers on the other side of the screen who are purposefully or intentionally designing these services in order to capture your attention” ~Kai Lukoff

Bottom line and concern for society

We have fewer cognitive resources available in our offline lives.

The biggest worry: The cost over the long-term may mean we are deteriorating our cognitive control ability.

“Through our behavior we are harming that muscle that enables us to focus .” ~Daniel B. le Roux

In other words, we’re becoming less thinking, perhaps less human, beings.

Doesn’t this scare the bejeebers out of you? I strongly suggest listening to the podcast below.

3 Resources for You: Understanding and combating digital distractions

Books, articles, tips, tools and advice to help you unplug.

The Conversation Podcast: Too many digital distractions are eroding our ability to read deeply and here’s how we can become aware of what’s happening

Establish offline hours: The hour after awakening, the hour before bed.

Waking Up: A new operating system for your mind. Claims to be “not just another meditation app.” (Testing this one.)

2 Questions for You: Focus and reading deeply

Reflections, questions and ideas to consider to break the digital impasse.
1st Q: Have you noticed a change in your ability to think or focus deeply for long periods of time?

2nd Q: Do you lose yourself in a book?

Hit reply and let me know what you discovered this week. I’ll use some of your feedback in next week’s Field Notes (first name only.)

Reflection Feedback

From Jerod: (on Tech with Intention)
Good piece. I need to go through some of these questions.

1 Action for You: Digital time-outs

One small step to start the change.

Don’t check your phone or computer for 1 hour after awakening. Join me on this one.

Hit reply, let me know how it goes and I’ll include feedback in next week’s Field Notes.

Nature View

Being able to smell the fresh air and disconnect from the news and your phone – there’s nothing like it. ~Jason Ward