Ever more people, especially young people, rely primarily on computers, tablets, smartphones, and other electronic devices for communications. Are these device addicts failing to develop basic realworld social skills? More fundamentally, are they failing to develop basic cognitive skills?
New research suggests that in some ways they are. Earlier this year, psychologists Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer published a study comparing college students who take notes on paper versus those who do so on laptop computers.
Their findings? Not only can laptops easily distract students away from course material; even when students use them just to take notes, they retain less conceptual information than students who take notes using pen and paper.
Web-Only Learning Contributes to the Rise of Very Short Attention Spans
Other research shows that students who bring laptops to classes get less out of their classes and report being less interested in course material and less happy with their professors. Humans, it seems, weren’t made to learn or to experience life through backlit screens. Yes, our devices have their place as tools. No one can deny that an Internet-connected laptop computer can do more than a spiral notebook.
But sometimes less is more in terms of your mental focus. When you really want to focus on informational content, you need to power down your devices and eliminate distractions. Independent Living bucked the trend of all-digital publishing. We continue to actually print a flagship monthly newsletter on paper that you can read even in places where there is no Wi-Fi or cell signal available.
Mental Water-Bugs Are Not Up to Today’s Challenges and Opportunities
In the digital world, attention spans are extremely short. We’re all vulnerable to being distracted online (advertisers cash in on it by seeding web sites with “click bait”). Few of us are going to sit down and read an entire article, let alone an entire newsletter, on a computer screen. If we do, we’ll likely retain less information than we would if we had read the print version.
So whenever you hear demands from politicians or teachers unions for taxpayers to fund more laptops or tablets for classrooms, you’ll know better. More exposure to electronic devices is the last thing most kids need.