Bring Back Boredom: Is Technology Exhausting Young Minds?

by · November 23, 2010

I am an advocate for technology and will admit that maybe sometimes I go over the top in my praise of technology and its benefits to society. An excellent article in the New York Times, Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction, was an important reminder for me that maybe not everything about technology is amazing.

In the article, the journalist, Matt Richel, tells the story of a smart 17-year-old who is struggling in school and finding it difficult to concentrate on traditional assignments. His passion is for filmmaking, and the Internet allows him to dive into his passion, often it seems at the expense of his grades. This may result in the next great director, or it may result in him not getting into a good college. So is the technology helping, or hurting? It’s obviously not an easy answer.

I won’t rehash the whole article here because everyone should read it, but a couple of the points I found most interesting:

  • There are many doctors and scientists that believe multitasking and overstimulation (generally facilitated by technology) are overworking the brain. They suggest the brain can only handle so much information, and when it is overloaded, it selects what to remember, meaning pesky things like grammar may not have a place (I think my brain may suffer from this regularly!). One professor at Harvard Medical School suggested we need to “bring back boredom,” and let the brain rest some so it can process information.
  • Technology isn’t changing the personality of kids per say, but it more allows them to amplify who they are. For example, social butterflies tend to be heavy texters and Facebook users, while the quiet and reserved often retreat to video games.

The article doesn’t really answer the question of whether technology is good or bad for youth, although it does certainly highlight a lot of the potential negatives. Regardless of whether the impact is more positive or negative, technology is here and we need to figure out how to harness its powers to help youth succeed – sounds very much like a mission for the Power Rangers. To me, it seems like a good place to start is to really understand how youth use technology and how they feel it is impacting their lives. And wouldn’t you know, but ictQATAR is actually right now working on such a study.

The research is already underway and the people working on the study said they are not just looking at usage of technology among youth, but also their views on it and how it is impacting their relationships with others, such as parents, teachers and friends. The study will also examine how it is changing cross-gender communication and the impact of having multiple identities online. Findings will be analyzed with the goal of developing a report for the country’s policy makers to help them make informed decisions about how to reach youth and shape the country to best capitalize on the new reality technology has created. It should be a fascinating report.

I couldn’t convince the people working on the study to speculate on what they would find, but I would imagine they will find a lot of similar things to what the New York Times article highlights. I am sure there will be some findings that are unique to Qatar – what do you expect them to discover?

Post By Brian Wesolowski (137 Posts)

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Discussion4 Comments

  1. Gary Stager says:

    Educators across the world are denouncing this incredibly ridiculous story in the NYTimes. At BEST ie believes that the primary role of children is to be good at school and then uses questionable “evidence” to argue that technology is the enemy of that goal.

  2. Jody says:

    Look forward to hearing about the results of ICT’s study. I wonder if more of these are taking place elsewhere, by whom, ….

    I personally think the brain is more than capable of keeping up and processing any amount of information we can give it. To me they’re the same arguments that bash gaming, etc. This technology is here to stay and I think what’s needed is to find a way to integrate it positively into our lifstyles, particularly for our kids. Technology, gaming, etc could revolutionize our kids classrooms and begin to motivate kids in a way that relates to the current world around them, rather than being viewed as a problem to manage.

    At times it can be viewed as a real timewaster and I am a proponent for the need to turn off at times, but we need to focus on it’s positives rather than seeing and reporting on all the negatives and/or unknowns.

  3. Ranwa Yehia says:

    How can we suggest to move backwards? I recommend you look at this and reconsider

  4. Jody says:

    Ranwa, thanks for posting the link as I hadn’t seen it yet. I am a big fan Sir Ken (and RSA). What Sir Ken is talking about is my pet peeve and my passion. The education of our children desperately needs to change. (Some kind of glitch right at the end of the video though???)

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