Digital Dementia

How does digital technology change the way the brain works? Is digital technology making us smarter? Do children learn faster using computers? Neuroscientist and philosopher, Manfred Spitzer, argues in this TV interview that digital technology is dangerous to the developing brain, and should be banned in education. It can cause addictive behaviour, interferes with knowledge retention and can result in a breakdown of cognitive abilities. He coined the phrase digital dementia, to describe a mental condition prevalent among young people in South Korea, Hong Kong and other countries with a high usage of digital technology, characterised by a lack of the ability to concentrate, to remember information or to focus. In his book, Digital Dementia (not yet translated into English) he presents studies showing that computers actually slow down learning and knowledge retention. His most vociferous criticism is reserved for the Google Culture. In an interview with Raquel Forster, Editor of Credit Suisse, he says,

You click on the browser, enter a word, click on “Google Search” and get 10,000 hits. What you really need in order to google is (background) knowledge. If you don’t know anything, you won’t know what to do with all the results Google throws at you. So your background knowledge is like a filter that lets you separate the wheat from the chaff. Contrary to belief, this background knowledge doesn’t come from googling. Psychologists from Columbia and Harvard found that content from Google is retained for the least amount of time because our brains think we can access this information whenever we want. This is different from newspapers or books, where we retain much more knowledge. So if you really want kids to learn how to use Google at school, there’s one thing to avoid: Google. Kids don’t need Internet 101 or media skills. They need much more background knowledge.