I was walking the other day and saw the most beautiful flowers on a plant I didn’t recognise.
So, I pulled my smartphone out, snapped a picture of the plant and used an app that identifies flora for you. I love that app.
Apps give us access to a whole new world of information with just the push of a button. With such easy access to learning, one would think they make us smarter. I believe they can.
However, they can also be thieves that steal our intelligence, our intuition, our creativity and our motivation.
If we let them.
Want to know if there are fires in your area? There’s an app for that.
How about traffic conditions? Weather forecasts? News bulletins? There are apps for those as well.
It’s difficult to think of something there isn’t an app for.
There are a host of apps for pregnant women. They describe the baby’s development and track it’s its size – from a poppy seed to a watermelon.
When the baby is born, watch out. There are apps to help you keep track of feeding and nappy changes. Also, apps that explain the developmental stages of children.
WHEN THE APP TRAP STEALS INTUITION
They are wonderful tools, but if relied on too heavily, they can steal a mother’s greatest gift – her intuition.
Relying on apps to tell you how to live life, how to be parents, how to be human, can be a dangerous thing.
I know one mother who isn’t concerned about her child’s fussy eating habits because an app tells her it’s OK. What about when it isn’t?
And another mother who won’t seek professional advice about her baby who refuses to sleep because an app tells her that’s perfectly normal. She’s concerned about the baby’s lack of sleep, (and hers) but is stuffing down her intuition because of an app.
WHEN THE APP TRAP STEALS INTELLIGENCE
So, you want to be smarter? There are, of course, apps for that. In fact, it’s a billion-dollar industry. Yet, according to research, there is little evidence that brain enhancing computer apps can actually make you smarter.
There are two main categories of intelligence – fluid intelligence and crystallised intelligence. Crystallised intelligence is about acquiring intellectual skills such as reading and comprehension. Fluid intelligence deals with the abstract and our ability to see things in a new way and solve problems – creative thinking.
While apps are wonderful tools for acquiring information, they do nothing to enhance fluid intelligence and reliance on them could actually steal our ability to think creatively, or think for ourselves at all.
This theft can be happening without us even being aware of it.
The study, Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity, describes how smartphones can impair cognitive performance, even when we’re not looking at them!
In the study, participants performed simple cognitive tests while their phones were placed on the table next to them, left in pockets or bags or left in another room. Those whose phones were on the table in front of them had the worst results. Those who had their phones nearby – in a pocket or bag, were a little better. The best performers were those whose phones were in another room. It is believed this is because the very presence of the phone divides our attention, even if we are not aware of it. Attention is vital to absorb new information and learn new things.
Aside from the distraction of phones and all the wonders they have to offer, specific apps can harm our brains.
WHEN THE APP TRAP DOES MORE HARM THAN GOOD
There is some evidence to suggest certain parts of the brain can erode if not used, such as the parts that help us to navigate.
According to neuroscientists, our brains have two specialised systems for navigation. One is in the hippocampus, where we create spacial maps of the world around us. The other is found in the caudate nucleus, where we file away different landmarks that help us find our way. These systems improve with practice. In fact, London taxi drivers who acquired ‘The Knowledge” (a detailed understanding of the city’s complicated street network) were found to have larger hippocampi than other people.
These systems can also erode if not used.
In one study, people who were given paper maps and had to figure out routes for themselves were able to draw more accurate and detailed maps than those who relied on GPS.
Integrated apps, such as spell check and phone number storage, help to erode our memory.
This is a scary thought, as researchers have found a direct link between memory and IQ. Research has shown that working memory capacity can predict a person’s performance in many different intelligence tests.
One survey, involving 2,000 adults, suggests auto correct is harming our ability to spell even common words and is creating an auto-correct generation.
The brain, like the body, needs exercise to stay strong. If we filter all of our decisions through apps, we lose our ability to think for ourselves and risk shrinking certain parts of the brain.
WHEN THE APP TRAP STEALS CREATIVITY
When it comes to apps claiming to promote creativity, there are literally thousands. Some actually claim to make you more creative. This is, of course, untrue. Becoming more creative requires you to take action for yourself.
While many of the apps are wonderful tools to help spark ideas and develop skills, you actually need to do the work to become more creative. If you want to become a creative thinker, you need to do even more work. A creative thinker is one who comes up with new ideas. If you rely on apps to give you all your ideas, without taking the time to think of your own, then you are not a creative thinker. But you can be.
Used as a tool to spark ideas, apps can be wonderful. However, you need to put the phone or computer away long enough to put that creativity into practice.
Therein lies the problem. Many I have spoken to bemoan the lack of time they have for creative pursuits. I wonder if they have checked their online usage lately. It can be kind of terrifying to see how many hours you’ve spent in a week, trolling Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, email or others.
Just as apps can’t actually make you more creative, they can’t steal your creativity – unless you let them.
Relying on apps to spoon feed you information about everything is a sure way to do this. It can be an easy trap to fall into, especially when you allow the app trap to steal your motivation.
WHEN THE APP TRAP STEALS MOTIVATION
This is undoubtedly the crux of the whole thieving problem. The call of the app can entice us away from living life while we frantically push buttons to view the smorgasbord of information on offer.
It can steal our motivation to be active participants and decision-makers in our own lives. How many times have you had the urge to do something – clean the house, work in the garden, create something beautiful – and put it off to check out your apps just one more time? Before you know it, your mind is totally distracted and the motivation you felt has disappeared.
It’s not all bad news though.
HOW TO AVOID THE PERILS OF THE APP TRAP
Would you hand over your money to a would-be thief before they threatened or even asked for it?
Unlike your regular mugger, apps can only steal from you if you allow them to. If you don’t, they can be the most amazing tools to make life easier and more exciting.
Here are a few tips to help you save your intuition, intelligence, creativity and motivation from theft.
AVOID THE APP TRAP TIPS
- Track your online time. You can do this on an iPhone by going to ‘settings’ then ‘battery’. You may be surprised (or horrified) at how much time you’ve spent on various apps. Knowledge is power though and once you can see where your time is going, you can plan to change it.
- Allow yourself some opt-out time each day. This is best achieved by having your phone on silent and in a completely different room.
- Plan specific times to check emails so that you are not distracted by constant notifications.
- Consider turning notifications off for some, if not all, of your apps.
- Next time you have a concern about something – your child’s eating habits, a communication issue, a relationship problem – take some time to think about it quietly before reaching for the phone and the answers those apps may give you. Trust your intuition and use it so you won’t lose it.
- Read a book – or many. Take a course, preferably offline so you can interact with others and increase your opt-out time. These things will help save your intelligence from theft.
- Plan a trip – but resist the urge to use GPS or Google Maps.
- Give yourself homework. Learn how to spell a new, unusual word from the dictionary regularly.
- Strengthen your memory. Choose a few phone numbers to memorize and type the numbers in each time you call.
- Next time you see a picture on Pinterest of something amazing you would like to try, put the phone or computer away and think about how you can achieve this. Draw diagrams, make plans, see if you can improve on the original idea. This will help save your creativity from theft.
- When the call of the app trap becomes too enticing, leave your phone on a table and go for a walk. The walk will help clear your head and motivate you to do something other than fall into the app trap.
What’s your favourite tip for avoiding the app trap?
Have a gleeful week, Tamuria.