In their new education blog, Grade Point, the Washington Post reports on a study showing My smartphone is making me dumb. Actually, that headline is probably making their readers dumber.
Researchers gave college students their first smartphone and asked them “whether they thought the devices would help them learn”. Of course a large majority said yes.
But a year later, when they were asked the same questions in the past tense, the results were entirely different – the college students felt the phones had distracted them and hadn’t been helpful, after all.
So, of course, we blame the technology, instead of any number of other factors (start with this being their first smartphone) that don’t necessarily translate into provocative headlines.
Finally, tacked onto the end of the post, the writer did manage arrive at the far more accurate conclusion of research like this.
Just providing access to mobile technology wasn’t enough, they concluded; educators would need to offer more structure or guidance if they wanted phones to enhance students’ academic experience.
Teachers must learn how incorporate mobile devices into their practice before students can understand how to use them for their learning.
Not exactly link bait.
Betteridge’s law of headlines states that “Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”.
Take for example, a recent article on the Ars Technica website: “Is your smartphone making you dumb?”.
And despite the provocative question, the authors of the study being referenced don’t actually arrive at that conclusion.
“the results are purely correlational,” emphasize Golonka and Wilson. There’s no way to tell whether an over-reliance on smartphones decreases analytical thinking or whether lower analytical thinking ability results in a heavier reliance on smartphones, they explain.
Of course, this is one instance in a long line of “research” and “analysis” provocatively asking if Google, the internet, social networking, or technology in general is impacting human intellectual development in some way. For good or bad. Maybe both.
Did societal observers have the same questions in the aftermath the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio or any other major change in the way people communicated information? I suspect they did. Did humans get dumber? Smarter? Weirder?
I’m pretty sure the honest answer to the question of what the use of smartphones/instant search/social networking/<insert your tech fear here is doing to our brains is “we don’t know”. All of these digital tools some say we are addicted to (another of those headline concerns) are very, very recent developments in human history. It takes more than a decade or two to sort through all the data.
Which is all the more reason to do our own research. Be introspective about ourselves and observant of others. Pay attention and we’ll watch the future of the human species develop.
I’m pretty optimistic about it.