Lying in bed and scrolling through social media apps on a small screen is a way to wind down in the modern world. New research suggests, however, that our cell phones can easily overwhelm the human brain.
The popular and addicting short-form videos on TikTok and on Instagram reels, which are an average 15 seconds, are what attracts our minds.
The current consensus regarding compulsive scrolling and addiction is that tech giants are vying for attention by flooding the screen with an excessive amount of enticing content that diverts attention and impairs the ability to focus for extended periods.
Jelle Bruineberg, a philosopher from the University of Copenhagen, argues in the journal Neuroscience of Consciousness that people should look elsewhere for an explanation. Specifically, he suggests that we should look within ourselves for our innate desire for novelty and the capacity of digital technologies to provide it whenever and wherever we need it.
According to cognitive neuroscience, our desire for novelty is fundamental to how our minds function. He continues by saying that we may easily get this prize thanks to modern technology and smartphone addiction.
Information in books does not immediately alter the mind the way it does in the digital sphere; rather, it is static. Our propensity to form "checking habits" is largely due to the easy availability and constantly shifting material.
It is thought that before the development of digital technology, there was a period when information was sparse and we could thus choose how we wanted to spend our attention.
The use of phones and our brain
As there is much information available to us today, it is harder to give our whole attention. People can easily gain access to information across the world by a click, or simply by watching a 15-second video online. According to this theory, the issue would be resolved if we were merely exposed to less information. However, as Bruineberg notes, managing one's attention has never been simple.
He continues that many religious communities have historically placed a strong focus on contemplative practices, which were intended to help practitioners gain some control over their attention and free themselves from the distractions of daily life.
Hence, it is more plausible that digital technologies facilitate other and maybe more common forms of distraction than the introduction of distraction.
However, according to Bruineberg, the issue is not with us being overloaded with data. Essentially, the issue is that our brains and bodies are not designed to function in situations where there is easy task switching, frictionless engagement, and nearly limitless readily accessible novelty. And severely limiting our digital settings is the only way to stop this trend.
He determines that for instance, if you only get emails twice a day, you can be sure that during that time, nothing new will arrive in your inbox.
- Neuroscience of Consciousness. Adversarial inference: predictive minds in the attention economy.
- AARP. Keep Your Focus: Older Americans Have Superior Attention Spans.