(June 17.)

Most of us whose brains haven’t been fried by overuse of “smart” phones have tacitly assumed that there are some dangers to the overuse of those devices. Now, researchers in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia are confirming for us what we thought we knew.

Specifically, the researchers used findings from psychiatric, psychological, and neuro-imaging studies to conclude that the internet and our phones are harming our social skills as well as our ability to focus and to remember things.

“Joseph Firth, [an] author of the review, told Medical News Today: ‘The limitless stream of prompts and notifications from the internet encourages us towards constantly holding a divided attention — which then, in turn, may decrease our capacity for maintaining concentration on a single task.’” Or, in the language of the report itself, over-reliance on technology can “cause changes in the brain’s structure and function, resulting in cognitive decline.”

The problem is especially acute with children and adolescents: “higher frequency of Internet use over 3 years in children is linked with decreased verbal intelligence at follow‐up, along with impeded maturation of both grey and white matter regions.” (On the other hand, for senior citizens, use of the internet may help keep cognition a bit sharper and may help people “overcome isolation” and thus maintain social connections that serve them well.)

Meanwhile, the research bolsters the conclusions already obvious to many of us with regard to social skills. We’ve all seen twenty-somethings, obviously on dates, texting each other across the table rather than actually talking, and we’ve dealt with teenagers almost entirely unsure how to conduct a phone conversation.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R- Neb., focused on this problem in a book published last winter called Them: Why We Hate Each Other, and How to Heal. Sasse, a former university president and high official at the Department of Health and Human Services, describes loneliness as a major public health crisis, laying part of the blame on technology. …

[The rest of the piece is at this link.]



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