This blog seems a little tech-obsessed lately. Blame the media (because why not, right?). Recent months have seen a spate of reports on various negative aspects to our society’s increasing obsession with screens. This is pertinent here because screens are becoming a ubiquitous part of K-12 schooling, with even kindergarteners given iPads for up to several hours every school day.

This past weekend, the Wall Street Journal — the news outlet most respected by both conservatives and liberals, according to a recent media survey — published a long article discussing the author’s years of research on the intellectual effects of frequent phone, tablet, and laptop use. Author Nicholas Carr’s 2011 book “The Shallows” was a finalist for the nonfiction Pulitzer Prize.

“Not only do our phones shape our thoughts in deep and complicated ways, but the effects persist even when we aren’t using the devices. As the brain grows dependent on the technology, the research suggests, the intellect weakens,” he writes in the Wall Street Journal article. Here’s another excerpt of the article, focusing on the academic effects of our mental relationship with our electronic devices. The phenomena at work here are also at play with other screen devices such as tablets.

In an April article in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, Dr. Ward and his colleagues wrote that the “integration of smartphones into daily life” appears to cause a “brain drain” that can diminish such vital mental skills as “learning, logical reasoning, abstract thought, problem solving, and creativity.” Smartphones have become so entangled with our existence that, even when we’re not peering or pawing at them, they tug at our attention, diverting precious cognitive resources. Just suppressing the desire to check our phone, which we do routinely and subconsciously throughout the day, can debilitate our thinking. The fact that most of us now habitually keep our phones “nearby and in sight,” the researchers noted, only magnifies the mental toll.

Dr. Ward’s findings are consistent with other recently published research…In another study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology in April, researchers examined how smartphones affected learning in a lecture class with 160 students at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. They found that students who didn’t bring their phones to the classroom scored a full letter-grade higher on a test of the material presented than those who brought their phones. It didn’t matter whether the students who had their phones used them or not: All of them scored equally poorly. A study of 91 secondary schools in the U.K., published last year in the journal Labour Economics, found that when schools ban smartphones, students’ examination scores go up substantially, with the weakest students benefiting the most.

If you’re interested in learning more, read the whole article, and perhaps even the book.

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