Scientists warn overuse of modern tech may cause brain to prematurely fail

“Can’t recall a friend’s phone number? Press the speed dial on your mobile. Don’t know the way to their house? Use a satnav. Modern technology has taken the strain off our brains with the answers to so many problems available at the click of a button,” John Naish reports for The Daily Mail. “But is there a dark side to all this convenience? Growing scientific evidence suggests a future where our brains may prematurely fail in later life through under-use, thanks to Mother Nature’s rule that we ‘use it or lose it.'”

“You might describe this new threat to our mental health as ‘e-mentia’ – memory-related problems, and even depression, linked to our overuse of new technology,” Naish reports. “Some of the most worrying evidence of the problems we may be storing up for later relate to navigation aids. Research published in April 2011 shows our growing use of satnavs stops us using the brain’s sophisticated capacity for mapping surroundings as we pass them and building those impressions into a mental picture. Dr Rosamund Langston, a lecturer in neuroscience at the University of Dundee who conducted the study, said that by using satnavs, we wither away our ‘caveman’ ability to familiarise ourselves with new surroundings by memorising snapshots of them.”

“In December, a study found that smartphones seem to have altered the shape and function of the human brain. Dr Arko Ghosh, a neuroscientist at Zurich University, has discovered that people who use touchscreen phones on a daily basis have a larger somatosensory cortex – the area of the brain which controls the thumbs,” Naish reports. “Other studies raise more worrying questions. In September, researchers at Sussex University reported that people who habitually watch more than one screen at a time, for example using a smartphone while sitting in front of television, show an increased risk of depression and emotional problems.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Finally, an explanation for the deteriorating state of things on this rock.

Run for your life! Back to the forest! Run! — Elliott, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982

38 Comments

  1. To be fair, it is not really “rock”. It is a giant spheric droplet of melted alloy with thin layer of crust over it. This is why the Moon so easily separated from the Earth in the early days — because whole thing was, and still is, soft.

  2. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation. This reminds me of the old joke: a scientists is conducting an experiment with a bug; he has trained it to jump when he rings a bell. He then rips one leg out and rings the bell, bug jumps. Rips another leg and rings bell, bug jumps. He rips the last leg out and rings the bell, bug just sits there. His conclusion: when you rip out bug’s legs, it loses its hearing completely.

    While these seem plausible connections (depression, etc, and excessive screen time), one may not necessarily be caused by the other.

    1. thank you for writing my post for me – saved me 2 minutes!!

      now what where they watching on those screens that’s getting them all depressed? Dollars to donuts it’s the holy trinity of FOX News, Stock Market Results and Porn.

    2. Some of the great thinkers of history couldn’t remember their friends phone numbers. Think about Aristotle or DaVinci. Neither one had a friends phone number committed to memory, yet they are still studied after all these years. Neither one could drive, either.

      The emergence of technology to free us from the detritus of modern existence and enable greater engagement with the world around us is the path to growth. I’m an occasional visitor to Los Angeles, and I don’t know my way around, but with my trusty iPhone, I can drive between any two places with reasonable confidence and little stress. My mind is freed from the navigation task and allowed to focus on the traffic around me.This is a good thing. When I was in engineering school, there was a single HP calculator (about the size of two big city phone books (remember phone books) , with a single 10-digit nixie tube display) that was available to us in the student lounge that had a sign-up sheet to schedule its use in one hour increments. It was constantly booked solid. Why? It could extract the square root of a number. We learned to design circuits will tens of transistors. I often wonder what the engineering education experience is like today, when every student carries all these computational capabilities, as well as their textbooks, in something as available as an iPad or iPhone.

      Are the thumb-control centers of my brain bigger since I started using an iPhone? Probably, but I can make other areas grow by juggling for 15 minutes a day. So what? The world is changing, and keeping up with todays world is the task of modern man, not moaning over what was perceived to have existed in the past. These guys are like Republicans that think they want to go back to the ’50s, but get apoplectic when you tell them about progressive income tax rates (90% marginal rate on the top bracket) that existed to fund paying off our WWII debt and arm us for the cold war. The past isn’t all it’s alleged to be, sometimes. And if you try to go forward while looking back, you’re going to bust you butt at some point.

  3. It all hearkens back to our old nemesis, the book. Once people had books, everything started to fall apart. Instead of traveling across the ocean by dead reckoning, people would just resort to a map of ocean and wind currents. Instead of keeping track of who owed what to whom in their heads, people stated keeping records in books.

    Before the advent of the book, people had incredible abilities of recall. The greatest victim? The sciences. Wonder why nobody can change lead into gold now? Over reliance on books. They simply forgot how easy it was and how it was done. Since nobody wrote it down, it’s lost forever.

    Once people had books, they got addicted to them. Huge collections were created where hoards of book-addicts were preyed upon with an ever growing assembly of these loathsome devices were foisted upon children and the elderly.

    Books were the “gateway drugs” of the coming industrial revolution. Instead of happily toiling in the fields growing vegetables and retiring to their hovel at night to shudder in fear of omens in the sky, they turned their backs on the honorable life, and began mass producing goods which in turn affected millions of people, ruining their short but worshipful lives.

    The longer they lived, the more books they read and wrote. It was a downward spiral, which inevitably leads us to today’s totally corrupted internet age.

    Sigh. The end is near. Probably, we should all kill ourselves and find salvation.

    1. Ah put it down to the end of the quill pen.

      When ah wuz young, we knew how to write. It wuz work, ah tell ya’. First, y’ had to go and chase down a Giant Condor for a feather. Then y’ got your own quill and shaped it properly with yer teeth. And y’ had to know how to shape letters.

      An’ don’t get me started on Gutenberg!

  4. There’s a reason why, for all the revolutionary gadgetry introduced by Steve and Jony, they were very strict in terms of the usage of such devices among their children. Damn near all of these Silicon Valley bigwigs are the same. They know it can rot the brain, destroying functions like attention span and the ability to delay gratification. These are the things that separate successful people from the losers of the world. They want their children growing up to be like them, not the mindless blobs of mass floating around from the movie Wall-E.

  5. This is nothing new. I’m sure every generation has a “when I was a kid” story. 🙂

    When I was a kid, hand-held calculators started to showed up. I’ll bet I can do math in my head that some of “you youngsters” cannot. This includes “approximate math,” where I quickly determine a “good enough” answer to a more complex calculation (when decimal point accuracy is not needed).

    Then came word processors, which made the ability to spell far less important. Also, when we can type something without much thought, and then easily correct mistakes or edit to make it better, that “crutch” creates people who are less capable writers (on average). Imagine how it must have been to compose a novel on a manual typewriter. Those older novels tend to be more eloquent and concise.

    These days, we don’t even need to compose complete sentences, let alone paragraphs. We don’t need to use manual dexterity and hand/eye coordination to write with a pen on paper. Yet, it seems to me that the brain finds other things to occupy its capacity. So, I don’t think people’s brains will be “failing” because of modern tech.

  6. Computers easily remember things and do repetitive tasks. Humans are better suited to tasks that use critical thinking and original thought. Modern technology requires that we figure it out first and then decide what we want to do with it and if the result is what we want. We use our brains a lot more now with technology then ever before in history.

    1. Actually, I think most people are much better at repetitive tasks than original thought. And truly original thinking is hard for even the best of us.

      The interesting thing is this trend of automation is accelerating, so in five years machines will be doing much more of our thinking, and so on.

      Come mid-century using a brain to think will be like using a horse to drive today.

  7. It’s true that if you don’t use your brain it will deteriorate, but the point of modern technology is to afford us the bandwidth to pursue other mind-consuming activities (and I don’t mean angry birds).

    Without having to use our limited memories and bandwidth to consume and memories useless content that can be easily referenced with an iPhone, we can now focus more on higher levels. This is no different than any technological advancement over the course of human history. This is why growth is exponential: we use the current technology to build the next technology, just as we have always done.

    Lazy people will die early, just as they always would. Studies have also shown retirees that continue to work instead of rotting on their asses will live longer.

    The technological singularity is coming. Anyone who doubts this is either lacking any form of foresight, or comprehension of obvious trends in exponential progression. Soon we will no longer need a single feeble body, and will transcend above and beyond the limitations of these annoyingly limited and fragile ORGANIC bodies onto the future of a digital world.

    1. Watch the organic body of a humming bird for a while… with your organic body. WAY more resolution and subtlety than will exist in any electronic realm for a very, very long time, I am sure.

      I think the hunger for the singularity is an psychological weakness – sickness, even. Just another form of, “If I had X, THEN life would be worthwhile and I would be happy.”

      1. Incorrect! It is an inevitability. I am happy with life as it is, which I am sure is more lavish than your own, but I am also prepared to face a certain future and look forward to the singularity just as much as I look forward to each day right now.

        You’re a pathetic fool if you think 50 years from now will be only as more linearly advanced as 50 years ago. If you want to live in the past forever, and want to resist forward progress, then get the fuck off MDN and go live with the Amish.

      2. You sound like a woodsy redneck with a GED homeschooled education. You probably buy the last year’s models of Apple products and make less than $20 an hour. You probably have a camouflage jacket with a broken zipper, and wear a baseball cap over matted hair and scruffy unkempt facial hair. Oh and you probably drive a rusted pickup truck, and buy third party charging cables for your iPhone that hasn’t been upgraded year-over-year.

        Either that or you’re a hippy that smokes pot and live with your divorced mother.

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