How technology influences our brains | Guy Raz, NPR’s TED Radio Hour


[MUSIC PLAYING] GUY RAZ: Hello. I’m Guy Raz. I am the host of the “TED
Radio Hour” from NPR. And I hope I look like the
NPR nerd that you imagine when you hear the radio. I’m here to introduce
our next session. It’s called The Brain
is Behaving Badly. And it’s about some
of the actions we take and the decisions
we make in our lives and in our workplaces that may
not necessarily be good for us. How do we tackle problems like
incivility in the workplace? In a world of
instant connection, should we always
expect our colleagues to be available at all times? And, of course, can technology,
or maybe a lack of technology, offer up some solutions? So I’m going to start with
a brief personal story. This is a family portrait. It was given to me by
my now five-year-old son several months ago. That is the artist on the far
left there– on the far right. He’s holding a police car. Next to him is his
seven-year-old brother. He’s holding a baseball card. And their mother, my wife,
is all the way to the left. She’s looking proudly
over her brood. Their uncle is in
the background. I don’t why he’s
there, but he’s there. Threw him in there. And there is daddy. There I am right in the middle. and I am holding my iPhone. AUDIENCE. Aw. [LAUGHTER] So you can imagine, this was
a pretty heartbreaking moment. I’m a radio journalist,
and so news and information runs through my veins. I mean, I’m the
kind of person who checks my phone last thing
at night and first thing in the morning. It’s something that
is always with me. This is the person I am. I will read tweets
about the event that I’m actually
attending during the event. And though I spend a lot
of time with my kids, it hasn’t always meant
that I’m present. And in fact, in recent months,
my boys started to notice. And that was when I received
this family portrait. So that day actually,
I made a decision, a decision that has
had a profound impact on the way I have chosen
to live my life since then. And I decided that I would
try to tackle my nomophobia. Nomophobia is the fear of being
out of mobile phone contact. And there’s actually a move to
get this inserted into the DSM when it’s next updated. So in an instant, I turned my
smartphone into a dumb phone. I deleted Twitter and
Facebook, all the news apps that I use, all the
listicle sites, my ability to send and receive emails. And what I was left
with was a telephone that takes photographs. Now, this epiphany
happened a very short time after we did an episode
on the “TED Radio Hour” called “Screen Time.” And it was all about how this
new world that we’ve embraced, this world of devices,
may be changing us. And it’s happened in a
very short period of time. It’s only five or six
years since these devices have become so ubiquitous. It’s a world where we’re no
longer bored in our commute, waiting in line at
the supermarket, at airports, where we are
no longer without access to instant knowledge. Americans now spend five hours
a day in front of our devices. And according to the American
Academy of Pediatrics, children spend seven hours
a day in front of screens. There’s a pediatric
epidemiologist who was on that episode
of the “TED Radio Hour” named Dimitri Christakis. And he says we are
in the midst of a large, uncontrolled experiment
on the next generation of children. He’s actually in the middle
of a multi-year study looking into how screens are
affecting children, and by extension,
the rest of us. But because the scientific
research needs a large data set, it quite literally
cannot keep up with the pace of technology. So we may only
begin to understand the impact of all this once
the damage has been done. And you know, this experiment
is just a few years old. Six years ago, you
would have thought it was crazy if you saw
somebody walking down the street like
this with a phone, or through an airport terminal. And today this is
perfectly normal behavior. Today we go to dinner parties,
and we pull out our phones, or go out on dates with
our spouses and friends. And we stare at a screen. Even in the workplace, we’ll
sit in meetings with colleagues, and they’ll be talking with us. And it’s no longer strange to
just be looking at a device. And as we’ve come to rely on
our devices more and more, we’ve kind of
unconsciously outsourced a part of our own brain
function to them, right? I mean, our devices,
if you think about it, are in many ways
an external brain. They are an extension
of our own brain. They serve as our navigators. They hold our memories. They keep our calendars,
our reminders, our telephone numbers, names of
people we know. They offer us a portal
to infinite knowledge. And that means that
we no longer have to rely on some of our own
biological capabilities to take care of
many of these things that our brain was
designed to do. And already there is evidence
to suggest that screens are affecting our memories
and our attention spans and our interpersonal skills. And I think our addiction
to devices not only means that our brains may be changing,
but our behaviors, our ability to empathize, our
manners, our kindness, all of these human traits
are evolving in ways that we may not like. Now, I am not anti-technology. Our devices are wonderfully
enriching and powerful as well, and we should use them for that
purpose, to enhance our lives. But I think we also
need to remember that we are social animals. We need interaction. We need connection. We need human contact. And we need to be
present in the company of other humans– our family,
our friends, and our coworkers. So I’m not a poster
child for a life free from the shackles
of technology. I still cheat now and again, but
I’ve made it much, much harder for myself to do so. Now, has it meant
that I’ve missed an important email or tweet or
some piece of breaking news? Yes. Has it meant that
some of my coworkers have become annoyed because I’m
no longer instantly responding to emails? Yeah, it has. But has it been worth it? Yes, it has. And more importantly,
my five-year-old is now drawing portraits of
me holding a baseball glove. So if technology offers
us both promise and peril, how can we use it
in the right way to keep our brains
from leading us astray? Well, in this session,
Brains Behaving Badly, you are about to hear
some of those answers. Thank you. [MUSIC PLAYING]

Danny Hutson

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