Is technology the cause of shrinking attention spans?

Molly Melito, Staff Writer

Is our increasing use of technology altering the way our brains work? As students’ screen times are growing by the day, new research is surfacing, showing that younger brains are able to process information quicker than previous generations. This allows them to transition from one task to another more easily, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

The market researchers of AARP have also discovered that Americans touch their phones 2,617 times a day on average. This habit is exacerbated by the inescapable amount of technology, such as televisions, laptops, smartphones, tablets and Kindles that we are surrounded by on a daily basis. While modern-day technology provides us with endless possibilities, older adults are believed to have a superior ability to focus and learn. According to Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School, this is due to a longer-lasting attention span which tends to be more equipped for serious thinking. Today’s youth, however, tend to have more difficulty devoting their energy to simple tasks. Consistent digital simulation is a primary reason behind adolescents’ dwindling attention spans.

The hit of dopamine that the brain receives each time a notification is comes in creates a distraction, pulling adolescents especially from their original focus. As a result, retaining information and focusing on tasks such as schoolwork, becomes extremely difficult. Additionally, a habit of “skimming” texts has been instilled in many teenagers due to the typical small amounts of information they receive through the internet. This practice is then carried out in their schoolwork, and other aspects of learning are interrupted because of their inability to focus on longer tasks. A lack of focus can lead to negative consequences for the future generation of students when productivity in schools begins to decline.

This behavior is learned through repetition; therefore, it can be unlearned. To correct the technology addiction so many students currently struggle with, schools and students can learn  techniques that will turn it around. If students learn to break tasks down into smaller portions and more feasible goals, their stress levels will decrease while their attention spans will be extended. To improve attention spans without cutting out technology, adolescents can practice reading before bed, working out before school, or drinking more water, which will benefit them in the short-term in addition to the long-term.

Teachers’ use of meditation, journaling and breathing exercises can recenter their students’ attention spans and bring down stress levels throughout the classroom. Engaging students in lessons, either by involving them in lesson plans or by pointing out connections to daily life during class can be an effective way for commonly distracted children or adolescents to refresh their minds and establish important connections to daily life.

While many adolescents have a more difficult time understanding the negative effects of technology, learning how it can hinder their growth may be what ultimately changes the game for them and paves their way to success.