Living deliberately: Avoiding the Brain Drain.

co[yright The Guardian.

Out of sight is out of mind. 

Proverb often quoted by my granny.

Human ingenuity seems to reach new heights every year. We invent, and then develop wonderful technology to aid us in our lives.

The difficulty arises when we allow these tools to become our masters.

Take the smartphone.

This is a wonderful example of human creativity coming up with a wonderful tool, and then how we have let the tool take over.

Long gone are the days of yuppies on the train shouting into their hand-held bricks, “I am on the train…” just so everyone knew they were at the cutting edge. In their place are increasingly self-absorbed folk, holding shouted conversations as they walk around seemingly unaware of their surroundings, the distorted voices of their friends emanating from the speaker phone – their intimate secrets broadcast for all to hear.

It seems that there is more to this than meets the eye.

On April 3rd, 2017, a study was published in The Journal of the Association of Consumer Research. The researchers performed two studies to assess the effect of smartphones on cognitive functioning. They looked at 520 young people with a mean age of 21.1 years.

In the first study, they examined three conditions.

  1. Smartphones were left with other belongings in a different room from where the study was performed.
  2. Smartphones were kept in a pocket or bag that was with the person as they completed the tests.
  3. Smartphones were placed on the desk in clear view while the study was conducted.

Standard tests of cognitive function and mathematical calculations were carried out by each group.

The findings were of interest.

  1. When the phone was in another room, the participants performed better than those who had the phone in their pocket or a bag. The difference being statistically significant – i.e. was unlikely to have arisen by chance.
  2. Those who had the phone on their desk performed the worst of all. The difference between this group and those whose phones were in their pockets was clear, but not statistically significant.

The second study looked at 275 undergraduates with a mean age of 21.3 years. This examined sustained attention.

This study added in two new conditions.

  1. Phones were either switched on or left off.
  2. Phones that were on desks were left face up.

The findings were worrying.

  1. There was a significant impact on attention.
  2. The “other room” group performed significantly better than the “desk” group.
  3. The “pocket” group were in between.
  4. In the “pocket” and “desk” groups those who were most dependent on their smartphones performed worst of all.
  5. So, the presence of a smartphone – without using it or even having it switched on – significantly impacts on our ability to think and reason.

We check our phones at regular intervals even when there is no notification or vibration.

Dr Rosen of the California State University at Dominguez Hills, found that students who had their phone with them only managed to concentrate for 10 out of every 15 minutes. They were unable to concentrate for any longer because they were distracted by the need to check their technology. This is indicative of a huge decrease in the ability to focus and concentrate in comparison to similar studies from previous generations of students.

It is a direct result of our immersion in the current smartphone world.

This environment creates problems by:

  1. Raising anxiety levels. An effect of the stimulus rich world that phones generate.
  2. Decreasing brain power. Modulated by a direct effect on information processing – the effect of being distracted by the presence of our device.

What advice do these researchers offer?

  1. If we want to be able to sustain our attention on a task we should keep our phones in a separate room.
  2. We should build regular periods of protected phone separation into our daily lives.

If we want to function at our best and live deliberately, then mental decluttering is important and to deliberately manage our environment to minimise interruptions – whether direct or cognitive – is as important as decluttering our environments


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