Here’s something interesting that Jeff Wise, the author of Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger has been exploring recently: the more heavily we rely on technology gizmos like Smart Phones to perform activities involving memory or problem solving, the greater the risk we run of eroding our own mental capacities.
Jeff calls this growing tendency “mental outsourcing” and the results sound a little scary. The more we “offload mental effort,” according to current research, the more we “lose the ability to perform those functions for ourselves,” as the brain regions associated with those activities lose their strength.
Consider problem solving: Once daily life required that we solve a host of minor mental puzzles, from calculating tips to planning trips — all of which demanded mental agility. Now we can get the same results without any mental effort by using endless apps. “Using them,” says Jeff, “is the mental equivalent of taking the elevator instead of the stairs. Taking the easy way once in a while makes no difference, but if you make a habit of it, you’re going to get flabby.”
What to do, what to do? As writers, we need to stay sharp. Now our pal Jeff doesn’t suggest that we toss our smartphones or GPS systems. But he advises us to use them as “a tool, not a crutch.” So when he makes calls, he dials the numbers from memory; and whenever possible, he does basic math in his head. Something to think about. Write on.