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Shedding Light in the Darkness

Digital Dementia – What We Are Doing to Our Minds

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It’s not just in South Korea that the specter of digital dementia amongst young people has been ringing alarm bells. German neuroscientist Dr. Manfred Spitzer has also been warning that digital media can be harmful to young brains.

“I think today’s youth will have problems a few decades from now as a result of their media consumption,” Spitzer reported in an interview.

The medical director of the Psychiatric University Hospital in Ulm, Germany, Spitzer is author of the 2012 book “Digital Dementia: What We and Our Children are Doing to Our Minds.”

“I am talking about 7 1/2 hours per day, which in Germany is the average media use,” Spitzer said. “There is one thing this cannot have, and that is no effect, because our brain constantly changes by its use. So if you use it with digital media, that will change your brain and it will change it for the worse.”

“Some parents say their children are clever because they can use an iPad at age two. I can only tell these parents that they are making their kids stupid. Moving your hand over a smooth, contour-free surface with no structure is the stupidest motor skill and most boring sensory hand movement that you could do.

“It doesn’t teach a two year-old’s brain anything. Children need holistic experiences. Optical input must harmonize with acoustic and haptic input down to the last millisecond. Otherwise the brain gets confused and can’t learn a thing. That’s why computers are great for adults, but they are pure poison when it comes to brain development in children and youths.

“Computers have no place in classrooms, googling is so easy that anyone can do it after you show them once. You click on the browser, enter a word, click on “Google Search” and get 10,000 hits. What you really need in order to Google is (background) knowledge. Contrary to belief, this background knowledge doesn’t come from Googling. Psychologists from Columbia and Harvard found that content from Google is retained for the least amount of time because our brains think we can access this information whenever we want. This is different from newspapers or books, where we retain much more knowledge. So if you really want kids to learn how to use Google at school, there’s one thing to avoid: Google. Kids don’t need Internet 101 or media skills. They need much more background knowledge.”

He also says that rapid switching between topics when surfing the Internet, or between images when playing video games, can impede the developing brain’s ability to build up the neuron patterns used for long-term recall of specific subjects and for other complex cognitive skills.

Spitzer argues that digital media should be banned from the classroom. “In reality, using digital media in kindergarten or primary school is actually a way of getting children addicted.”

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