There are many negatives related to smart technology—tech neck, texting & driving, blue light rays—but there’s also a positive: the digital age isn’t making us stupid, says University of Cincinnati social/behavioral expert Anthony Chemero.
“Despite the headlines, there’s no scientific evidence that shows that smartphones and digital technology harm our biological cognitive abilities,” says the UC professor of philosophy and psychology who recently co-authored a paper stating such in Nature Human Behaviour.
In the paper, Chemero and colleagues at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management expound on the evolution of the digital age, explaining how smart technology supplements thinking, thus helping us to excel.
“What smartphones and digital technology seem to change the ways in which we engage our biological cognitive abilities,” Chemero says, adding “these changes are literally cognitively beneficial.”
For example, he says, your smart phone knows the direction to the baseball stadium in order that you do not need to dig out a map or ask directions, which frees up brain energy to think something else. Same happens in professional setting: “We’re not solving complex mathematical problems with pen and paper or memorizing phone numbers in 2021.”
Computers, tablets and smart phones, he says, function as an auxiliary, serving as tools which are good at memorization, calculation and storing information and presenting information once you need it.
Additionally, smart technology augments deciding skills that we might be hard pressed to accomplish on our own, says the paper’s lead author Lorenzo Cecutti, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Toronto. Using GPS technology on our phones, he says, can’t only help us get there, but lets us choose a routebased-on traffic conditions. “That would be a challenging task when driving round in new city.”
Chemero adds: “You put all this technology along side a unadorned human brain and you get something that’s smarter…and the result’s that we, supplemented by our technology, are literally capable of accomplishing far more complex tasks than we could with our un-supplemented biological abilities.”
While there could also be other consequences to smart technology, “making us stupid isn’t one among them,” says Chemero.
The findings were published in The Nature Human Behaviour.