ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO SHUT DOWN?

London Evening Standard (West End Final B) - ES Magazine - - Seven Days -

It’s amaz­ing that we haven’t all mor­phed into ro­bots given that the av­er­age amount of time spent on screens – play­ing video games, tex­ting, tweet­ing, Skyp­ing, surfi ng – is now seven and a half hours a day for chil­dren and eight hours for adults (in the US); the same time, if not more, that we spend asleep. And this is a low es­ti­mate. Ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists, we con­sume three times more in­for­ma­tion per day than we did in 1960. In terms of IQ this is great news – we’re clev­erer than our grand­par­ents, who were clev­erer than their grand­par­ents; a gen­er­a­tional growth called the Flynn ef­fect. In terms of prob­lem-solv­ing and form­ing ideas, how­ever, it’s a train wreck.

Cre­ativ­ity is defi ned as the pro­duc­tion of some­thing orig­i­nal and use­ful. It can be tested us­ing the Tor­rance Test of Creative Think­ing, where chil­dren are asked to look at a toy and fi nd ways to im­prove on it; there are no right or wrong answers. What re­searchers are fi nd­ing is that the act of buzzing be­tween ipads and smart­phones, while cre­at­ing new su­per­high­ways in the brain, is clos­ing down the ram­bling coun­try paths where di­ver­gent think­ing hap­pens. Given that child­hood cre­ativ­ity is a much stronger in­di­ca­tion of fu­ture creative ac­com­plish­ment than IQ (three times so), we have rea­son to be wor­ried. Sev­eral books, in­clud­ing

The Shal­lows: How the In­ter­net is Chang­ing the Way We Think, Read and Re­mem­ber by the tech­nol­ogy writer Ni­cholas Carr, de­scribe the ef­fects that so much screen life is hav­ing on our del­i­cate, mal­leable brains. The con­stant bom­bard­ment of in­for­ma­tion is, he ar­gues, mak­ing us shal­low, dis­tracted and inat­ten­tive. ‘ The more we use the web, the more we train our brains to be dis­tracted, to process in­for­ma­tion very quickly and ef­fi­ciently but with­out sus­tained in­for­ma­tion [con­cen­tra­tion or re­ten­tion],’ he writes.

The key to mem­ory con­sol­i­da­tion, or depth of un­der­stand­ing, is at­ten­tive­ness; the op­po­site of what hap­pens when we text, chat, surf and tweet at the same time. The idea of mul­ti­task­ing was shred­ded by sci­en­tists some time ago. We ac­tu­ally don’t mul­ti­task, we switch rapidly be­tween each task, and in the process lose most of the in­for­ma­tion (up to 75 per cent) that we just ac­quired. Mul­ti­task­ing also makes us un­happy. The psy­chol­o­gist Daniel Gil­bert makes the con­nec­tion be­tween be­ing fully im­mersed in a task and fulfi lment: oc­cu­pied minds (the artist at work or a child play­ing an imag­i­nary game), also known as ‘ be­ing in the flow’, are the least likely to suc­cumb to de­pres­sion.

This ‘ con­tin­u­ous par­tial at­ten­tion’ as it is also called, ex­tends into our off-screen life, mak­ing us dis­tracted,

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