Tess Okura, VP, Account Director, Palio
Like many children of the 70’s, I could rattle off the phone number of every person I knew and other random facts. Learning and memorizing things came easily, but it was a necessity – it was a time when there was no smart phone or Internet to look things up.
Today, however, technology has provided with so much information at our fingertips that our critical thinking skills are often less exercised or, perhaps, are over-stimulated, and that can be dangerous if you want to lead with thoughtful strategic thinking in the pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing space.
Though we’re now incredibly aided by technology, we’re also bombarded with more information than ever before. Everything we do from work to play to interacting with families and friends stimulates our brains, helping us learn and acquire new information each day. Add in the amount of digital information being created through emails, instant messages, blog posts, Web sites, Facebook updates, digital phone calls, podcasts and more, our brains are constantly in overdrive.
Technology has certainly made information more available and accessible, and it offers unprecedented convenience. Many technologies are sold on the promise that it will free up time to help us be more thoughtful and creative thinkers. While Google and ubiquitous access to a variety of media has put a world of knowledge at our fingertips, it may not necessarily be making us any smarter.
The decline of critical thinking skills is one area of concern. Education reporter Trip Gabriel recently discussed the quality of learning in online curriculum, where advocates cite its convenience and critics say that it’s all about saving money.
Jack London was the subject in Daterrius Hamilton’s online English 3 course. In a high school classroom packed with computers, he read a brief biography of London with single-paragraph excerpts from the author’s works. But the curriculum did not require him, as it had generations of English students, to wade through a tattered copy of “Call of the Wild” or “To Build a Fire.”
Hamilton, who had failed English 3 in a conventional classroom and was hoping to earn credit online to graduate, was asked a question about the meaning of social Darwinism. He pasted the question into Google and read a summary of a Wikipedia entry. He copied the language, spell-checked it and emailed it to his teacher.
Google may help speed the time to answer, but changing the depth and breadth of instruction can be detrimental to developing problem solving skills and memory recall. These proficiencies are important for intellectual development and fostering innovation.
Search efficiency is also changing how we interact. Whereas people might have deliberated at length over a given topic, being able to readily access information lessens the need for debate and argumentation. What’s the point when you can just Google for an answer? This can be potentially limiting because new ideas are born from looking at old concepts in a new light.
Gary Small, professor of Psychiatry and Aging at UCLA School of Medicine has looked at how search is affecting our brains and notes that it’s not making us smart or stupid, but it is changing how we think. What search does, he says, is change how we use our memory.
Unlike children of the 70’s who had to memorize phone numbers, people today can simply look them up in their handheld device or press a button for speed dial. There is no need for active thinking. However, we still have to pick and choose what we need to remember. Individuals attending an industry trade show need to be able to remember people’s names, what company they work for and if and when they’ve interacted. It would be awkward to need to look up that information on a handheld device.
Our prior experiences, education and ability to activate short-term memory help us search online, but for interacting in the real world, technology can be used to encourage brain fitness. Small suggests activities such as Sudoku puzzles, games and other memory techniques in addition to physical training and healthy living to improve brain efficiency and brain health as we age.
Search and other technologies are indeed changing how we think. The way we use memory is being altered as we move to a society of searchers and gathers. Technology has created a world where information changes quickly, and ideas can be distributed almost instantaneously. Individuals need to develop and nurture critical thinking skills so they can continue to innovate, evaluate information and arrive at thoughtful conclusions.
Palio is an advertising agency revolutionizing pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing to create experiences that will Never Be Forgotten.