It’s been happening for a while now, and we can now affirm that technology has become an integral part of our lives. From the moment we wake up until the time we go to bed, we are surrounded by technology in various forms. Technology follows our steps, from smartphones and laptops to smart home devices and wearables. This constant presence of technology has become a commodity, something that we take for granted and rely upon without even realizing it. The rise of digital technology has impacted our thinking and processing of information. And while the impact is not always negative, it is important to keep an eye on the changes it brings to our thinking. We keep hearing the question Is technology making us smarter or dumber? We hear people expressing their concerns about whether technology use will impact our cognition in a bad way in the long term. With instant information being available at our fingertips, the question of whether we need learned knowledge at all is also a popular one. Education vs skills which one is better? Those and many other questions persist and provide material for our face-to-face or digital debates. The answers to these questions are not clear-cut, but thinking about them can help bring awareness to the darker aspects of technology use.
The difference between pre-and post-digital thinking
In the pre-digital era, people had to rely on personal experience. Knowledge was much more important in making decisions and solving problems. Access to information was limited, and it required effort to get. So, people often had to rely on the tools they had: their own memory, reasoning, and creativity. This type of thinking had much more to do with self-reliance and self-sufficiency.
In contrast, post-digital thinking relies on digital tools and information to find solutions and make decisions. The internet provides access to an enormous amount of information, making it easier than ever to find answers to our questions. This has led to a shift from focus, memorization, and recall. Today, synthesizing and information processing skills take the lead. The ability to find information fast and decide if it is reliable or not has led to shorter attention spans and an increase in multitasking skills.
Post-digital thinking has the advantage of being faster and more efficient at gathering and processing information. But it also has some downsides. The shadow of this commodity can manifest as a decrease in self-sufficient thinking. Other potential drawbacks are the degradation of creative problem-solving and social skills. As with any major change society has seen, it is important to keep an eye on the potential downsides. This can help develop a strategy to keep the negative effects at bay.
The impact on memory
One of the most significant changes technology brought to cognition is the way we access and process information. With the help of the internet and evolving search engines, we now have instant and unlimited access to an unprecedented amount of information. This has changed the way we think about knowledge and memory because we no longer need to memorize large amounts of information. In change, we can focus our energy on developing skills for finding and processing information in the most effective way possible. This is the best-case scenario of using technology as a tool. While this has led to an increase in skills like critical thinking, evaluation, and synthesis, it has also led to a decline in memory and focusing skills for some.
This might be connected to the fact that technology has also changed our thoughts about time and attention. The constant stimulation with notifications and messages popping up all the time has led to fragmented attention for many. The inability to focus for extended periods of time is an amplifying challenge of our times. The decline of the attention span and the inability to focus is related to the memory issues many of us are experiencing.
The drawbacks of commodity
We rely on the commodity and flawless functioning of planners and trackers daily. We don’t measure intuitively if we walk enough daily but verify our step count. Without our phones, we can forget a meeting or the tasks and chores we had planned to complete that day. While most of this is unavoidable, it is important to remember from time to time that relying on technology too much can reduce our creative thinking skills and lead to mental laziness.
Access to the tools provided by technology has brought many incredible things, making our lives much, much easier. In the ideal case, this would mean that we can now use that time to engage in other productive activities that are more fulfilling. This would be the goal. The only problem is that dependence and a decreased will to engage in creative thinking can prevent us from doing exactly that. We can end up being stuck on the web, using our free time to scroll through social media or play games.
The shadow of dependence
Digital addiction is a growing concern of our time. The commodification of technology makes it almost impossible to notice. It is almost invisible even to those affected. Technology dependence can go unnoticed until the negative symptoms manifest physically and mentally. Those have a wide range and can also be revealed on the physical and mental levels. Physically as musculoskeletal and circulatory problems from a sedentary lifestyle, or eye strain from too much screen time. On the mental and psychological level, addiction can lead to anxiety, depression, withdrawal from real interactions, decreased social skills, and body image problems.
At this point, we cannot exclude technology from our lives. But it is important to keep a critical approach and check on ourselves from time to time. Healthy habits like limiting screen time or having a workout routine help balance the negative effects.
Human interactions are changing
The impact of technology on our cognition is affecting the way we communicate and interact with others. Digital communication has brought new forms of social interaction. Social media, instant messaging and video calls are part of our lives. While these forms of communication are convenient and efficient, they can also decrease our ability to read and interpret social cues. The commodity of distance can lead to diminished empathy, kindness, and a lessening of other social skills.
Also, there’s the illusion of communication. With social media around all the time, we can easily fall into the trap of this illusion: seeing what other people are doing can be interpreted as if we really knew what’s up with them. This can block the willingness to engage in real connections and interact with one another.
The impact of digital technology on cognition is complex and multifaceted. But it is clear, that it has brought significant changes to the way we think, process information, and interact with each other. To navigate this new era of cognition in the best possible way, it is important to be mindful of the ways in which the commodification of technology impacts our thinking. Actively developing critical thinking, attention, and social skills are crucial for warding off the potential negative effects. With conscious effort, the impact of technology usage on creative thinking and problem-solving can be controlled, and a healthy approach can be maintained. After all, technology is supposed to be a tool, that makes our lives easier, not harder.