Is technology making our brains lazy?

This is the question that I was asked on BBC Radio a few years ago. In a study of several hundred young people, I looked at the way technology was affecting the way we remember and process information. I first identified whether people were active or passive users of digital technology based on the average number of hours they spent on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.

Digital technology does change the way we use our brains

But it is not a bad thing. Active technology users were better at processing information in parallel. They could quickly adjust to a change in an information stream and picked up on what they needed to do.

In contrast, passive technology users processed information successively and found it easier to focus on a single target at a time.

In a modern workplace where multitasking is standard, technology can give us an edge. The old school way of remembering facts and information is not necessary. With Google at our fingertips, we don’t need to.

But what we do need to know is know how to use this information. And for that, we need Working Memory-our ‘active’ memory, the memory that you use to work with information. Working Memory is the skill needed to draw connections between information, to quickly shift from one task to another, and to manage multiple streams of information.

So is technology making our brains lazy? I would suggest that it is making us more efficient. Instead of having to fill up our mental ‘space’ with lots of information, this space is now freed up so focus on other things. Like how to best succeed in the workplace with creative and efficient ideas using what you know!

Facebook and Grades: In a study with high schoolers, we found that those who used Facebook for longer had better working memory and language scores (Alloway, Horton, Alloway, & Dawson, 2013).