Notifications dinging, text messages appearing I was trying to concentrate deeply on reading the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr for my English assignment due the next day. My phone kept going off distracting me from the intellectual task at hand. Ironically, my attention completely switched over to a Twitter conversation and away from what I was reading about: the ideals of how technology is harmfully affecting us. This very situation is why I am bringing to light the issue of how the constant bombardment of social media notifications and direct messages negatively affect our cognitive attention span.
I am not going to lie and say I have changed myself for the sake of this cause. I am just like everyone else in today’s technological modern society, constantly checking my phone to see what my friend’s cousin’s boyfriend’s little sister did on social media or checking an update when someone likes my Instagram picture. However, I do want to acknowledge the negative side effects it has on our brain and our ability to pay attention.
Our mind is a mysterious and ever changing organ that controls the way we live our lives. According to Carr, “virtually all of our neural circuits- whether they’re involved in feeling, seeing, hearing, moving, thinking, learning, perceiving or remembering- are subject to change.” He emphasizes the issue of how technology can and will affect our cognitive abilities by the constant bits of information we are receiving at an alarming rate every minute of every hour of every day. Our brains are becoming rewired to this idea of accessible instant gratification so that now we subconsciously expect everything to occur suddenly at the click of a button. When the amusing cat video on YouTube is taking too long to download or when the WiFi is dreadfully slow it causes us to have feelings of anger, anxiety, and utter disappointment. The circuits in our brains that are accountable for the way we “pay attention throughout a long novel, think deeply about concepts, and concentrate on a challenging task are becoming atrophied in adults and will perhaps be near to non-existent in the young. It has been suggested that the sharp increase in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) could be due to the rise in the use of technology,” professes Nicole Plumridge in the article “Is the internet destroying our attention span?” The author proclaims exactly the opinion I am expressing about the harm constant notifications can have on our mental saneness.
Furthermore, in the nonfiction work by Clive Thompson, Smarter Than You Think, Thompson acknowledges that “some people panic that our brains are being deformed on a physiological level by today’s technology: spend too much time flipping between windows and skimming text instead of reading a book, or interrupting your conversations to read text messages, and pretty soon you won’t be able to concentrate on anything- and if you can’t concentrate on it, you can’t understand it either.” I am a part of the “some people” he mentions in his quote, experiencing this issue firsthand on a daily basis. One moment I am in the middle of a complex Calculus problem and half a second later I am helping my best friend come up with an immature reply to an insolent comment her boyfriend just sent her. By the time I get back to my math assignment I basically have to redo the problem in order to regain the understanding I previously had. My concentration was thrown off just by a single text, reinforcing Carr’s idea that “the net seizes our attention only to scatter it.”
The bigger question is not how it is going to affect our mind, but what are we going to do as a society to stop this ongoing problem from progressing. Honestly, I don’t think we care enough about the damage that is being done to our lives. The constant desire to be connected to everyone and everything is more important to us than our actual changing neural circuits. As Carr put it, “we want to be interrupted, because each interruption brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch, or even socially isolated.” I am guilty of this desire to know what everyone else is doing because it makes me feel in the loop of society. My peers have confessed feelings of importance and happiness when they receive likes or comments on their social media accounts believing they have contributed to the greater good of humanity. However, the more “positive” impacts we feel we have on the world through this social interaction, the more negative affects we actually have on our minds. If our world keeps going on this destructive path our future could become forever altered. It is depressing to think it would partly be our fault if the posterity of our generation does not have the capability to comprehend the novels we read as adolescents.
What seems like a normal part of my teenage life has really started to concern the adults around me. A moment ago my mom sent me a picture of a cinema full of people all staring down at their phones with a quote above it proclaiming, “We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom” – E.O. Wilson. Her point being that we have a continual barrage of information bombarding us all day long on our cell phones, therefore, we cannot concentrate long enough on our educational studies to actually gain any true wisdom. The irony is, she caused me to stop writing this very paper in order to read the text message, thus interrupting my focus and contradicting the whole argument she was trying to make. It never even crossed her mind to think of what I was doing, she just automatically sent it causing my attention to shift subconsciously.
I know that it is close to impossible to stop the influence of technology in our modern world and even more impossible to pry a cellphone out of a teenage girl’s hand, but it may be more beneficial in the development of our minds to set the phone aside when we need to complete a thought provoking task. Don’t get me wrong, I am not really fond of the idea I am proclaiming, but I do believe in the negative affects the bombardment of constant notifications and direct messaging have on our attention span. Sometimes in a world of constant fulfillment, less is indeed more.