There’s no doubt about it: technology has changed the way we live our lives in ways we could never have imagined even twenty years ago. And certainly not when we were children. Technology is nothing new: mankind has been advancing and innovating since the dawn of time. The first cart; the first stylus used to write; the first time clay was used to make a bowl, or tools were used for – well, anything – that was technology in action.

As humankind advances technologically, the way we live changes. That’s self-evident. Some of the changes have been tiny, incremental improvements, the impact of which can only be seen with the 20-20 perspective provided by historical hindsight.

Other changes are sweeping: reengineering society on a massive scale at high speed. The advances we’ve seen in everyday technology in the last three decades fall into this category. Childhood today is barely recognisable when compared to what most of us experienced as children.

For most of us, we grew up:

  • Not having our needs met;
  • Behaving contrary to our impulses in order to please (or obey) those charged with our care; and
  • Biting our tongues.

(What is interesting about this last point is that research shows that having to wait your turn in a conversation actually facilitates language development. (Read more here and here.))

Advancement is not always the same as progress

The loss of this kind of more traditional childhood has resulted in the loss of serendipitous learning. It is difficult to learn off an electronic device. Specifically, it is difficult to learn by accident off such a device. (For more on the importance of serendipity in learning, and how we have to adapt to changing learning environments to facilitate this kind of accidental learning, read this.)

DML Central explains the trend this way:

The implications of this for learning are staggering, and for our cultures is terrifying, and are the subject of another post entirely. But what it says most is that the people building our web — the navigators (from Google to social networks) — are happy to reduce the human being to a column of 1s and 0s in order to keep us brand loyal. My feelings are hurt. Measure that, Schmidt.

The human potential for creating new connections and making new discoveries is being eradicated by a system that banishes imprecision and promotes conformity. To quote Matt Jones, Creative Director of design firm BERG London and founder of place-based social network Dopplr, “I still maintain, perhaps foolishly — that sharing hereish/soonish/thereish/thenish is more interesting than exactly-here/exactly-now.” Such fripperies aren’t being built into technological solutions because there is zeitgeist that fetishizes precision. Such services don’t produce the methods and materials for us to make connections ourselves, drawing on our self-knowledge and the other messy, immeasurable elements that go into a serendipitous discovery.”

When we read printed notes, take our own notes, listen, interact, and create, we engage every one of our senses. We hear the lesson and our own and our fellow learners’ insights. We taste and feel the content of what we way as we speak it. We experience our environment in terms of its colours, textures, sounds, and smells. The variations in style, layout, colour, texture, smell, and weight of the printed or written notes all add to the learning experience. Every sense is engaged. This helps the information to grab hold of the “cognitive hooks” in the brain – receptors that are prepped and ready for new information based on existing learning.

In other words: we make connections.

And often those connections are unpredictable. Every person has their own set of filters and experiences, so new information reacts differently with each person experiencing it. Especially when they experience it in the context of other learners and imparters of knowledge, sharing the same learning journey.

On the other hand, it is more challenging to both remember and – more importantly – integrate info gathered online or via a device.

The hard knocks of life smooth the rough edges

Just like the gut needs fibre to process food, the brain needs those connections to process what it learns. A lot of the roughage of life is removed by technology. It’s what David Rivkin calls hypercapitalism: all of life becomes a paid-for experience. For instance, we hire people to wash and even walk the dogs. And for many modern parents, we outsource our children’s education … and even their upbringing.

Since the recent influx of computer technology in everyday life, frontal lobes are less neurally networked.

IQ scores go up while SATs go down (find research) we are losing ability in the areas of language, discernment, cognitive reasoning. Actually, James Flynn, the first person to record and research the so-called Flynn effect, asserted that IQ is not in fact a reliable measure of intelligence. According to Wikipedia,

In 1987, Flynn took the position that the very large increase indicates that IQ tests do not measure intelligence but only a minor sort of “abstract problem-solving ability” with little practical significance.”

His research goes on to explain:

“one might expect the greatest gains to occur on such school content-related tests as vocabulary, arithmetic or general information. Just the opposite is the case: abilities such as these have experienced relatively small gains and even occasional decreases over the years.”

The functional parts of our lives have been colonised by technology. It’s not that technology is actively bad , but that we no longer proactively invest in positively healthy activities.

It takes a village …

A lot of the change in attitude we need depends on the communities we live in. As a community, we need to gang up to enforce good behaviours. We need to normalise healthy choices and make them cool, the thing you do to fit in.

Communities, we can be forces for good.

In fact, we have a responsibility to be just that. The data is alarming. We need to be disquieted. It’s time to ask, “how am I going to achieve genuine, sustained change in my family?”

In our next article in this series, we will look at practical steps for achieving genuine change in the area of modern tech addiction.

This article was developed based on a talk presented by psychologist Tim Barry on the subject of technology and how it affects our children. Tim Barry practices in Hilton, Pietermaritzburg. He can be contacted on 082 577 7128, or via email at