There was a time when teenagers boasted that they did not need a telephone directory or an address book. They said it was all “here”, as they tapped their forehead.
At school, they had regular “dictations” and “spelling bees”. They were made to study poems – and Shakespeare – by rote, and children’s magazines included General Knowledge questions and crossword puzzles as a matter of course. Students regularly invaded school and public libraries armed with pencils and reams of paper, in pursuit of “research”.
Alas, all this has changed with the advent of the internet.
A couple of taps on a keyboard and a click of the mouse will call up a list of addresses and telephone numbers, the correct way to spell a word, and the latest information on any given topic or issue.
Instead of recalling, or at least asking a family member to remind them which size jeans they wear, when a site offers them on sale, they punch in the name of the document in which they have written down these details.
With millions of megabytes of information at their fingertips, teenagers do not feel the need to “learn”, much less “study” and least of all “understand and assimilate”.
Studies have shown that teenagers today tend to memories the sites from where they can get pertinent information, rather than the information thus acquired itself. They tend to have their favourite search engines – and these are not necessarily the ones other people use. Add this to the amount of time spent on social sites doing nothing other than keeping up with what the Jones are doing and saying, and it is obvious that the worldwide web is swallowing way too much time for those who could be using it better.
“If you don’t use it, you lose it”, is an adage that may be used in this instance too. We are seeing the rise of “trans-active memory” – when you can’t put a finger on what you need to know, but are perfectly aware of from where this information may be accessed.
It gets worse, however. Various MRI scan studies carried out by different entities, involving the services of neuroscientists and radiologists, are indicating that teenagers are actually having memory and concentration difficulties directly associated with the amount of time the spent engrossed in front of their monitors.
Parts of the brain atrophy the less they are used. These include the aforementioned memory and concentrating centres, as well as the sites associated with goal-setting and decision making. Attention-spans, as well as tempers, become shorter.
There is a worse downside – inhibitions are reduced, and this may lead to behaviour that would otherwise have gone totally against their mores. This, of course, says nothing about the time wasted playing games and chatting with friends, when this time could have been used to enhance their studies – or in sleep and rest.
Teenagers who would be the first to deny they are “addicted” to the internet actually:
# are likely to snack in front of their screens, rather than at the family table;
# have withdrawal symptoms when the system is down, or when their pc develops a fault;
# leave real-life activities early, or do not attend at all, so they can log into their favourite chat-rooms or community games;
# lie about the time they spend ensconced in their private worlds, when asked directly;
# lose track of time when they are online, often forgetting the original reason for which they would have logged on;
# use the internet to escape from personal or familial problems.
There is a correlation between the fact that the more constant the use of internet, the more structural damage wrought to the brain, the more abnormalities found, amend the less the teenagers scored in aptitude, cognitive and other tests.
And this says nothing about the contribution that a sedentary lifestyle makes, to the obesity epidemic.