Scientists Go Hiking to Test How Technology Affects the Brain

Turn off. Go off the grid. We hear that advice all the time, but for some it is impossible to do, even when on vacation or a trip when you don’t have connectivity or access. This MSNBC article from the NYTimes talks about a group of scientists who took a trip in the wilds of Utah to try and probe how technology affects our thinking. They were in an area with no connectivity, no laptops were brought along. The group had a mix of skeptics and believers according to the article. The article doesn’t offer any conclusions, but does discuss their hypothesis.

I don’t know about you, but I find it increasingly easier to turn off and go off the grid when I need to rest my brain. When I choose to, I can be as connected as the next geek, and have often spent time and money to make sure I can stay connected on certain trips. I don’t do that any longer, and actually breathe a sigh of relief when I reach a destination that makes connecting difficult. I know some are incapable of turning off, but for me I find it to be a simple choice. In fact, I resent those times when I can’t turn off because I have business pressing that I constantly need to monitor.

As a two-part example, I spent most of the weekend with my ailing mother. In the nursing home where she resides connectivity is a hit and miss proposition. Consequently, I’ve gotten in the habit of turning my phone’s Airplane Mode on when I enter the facility. When I go out to run an errand or take a walk, I’ll flip it back on to see if there is anything I need to pay attention to, or sometimes I won’t.

Now, here’s the second part of that story. This weekend my niece headed off to start college. My mother was continually wondering how she was doing (and how her parents were doing.) She kept asking me to text my sister and find out. So, I’d walk outside send a text and wait for a response, or tell my sister to call the landline in my mother’s room. When she took a nap Saturday afternoon, I headed off to a local coffee shop for a couple of hours, and was checking Twitter, when I noticed that my niece had tweeted, “I want to go home.” When I returned to my Mom’s room, I told her. She asked what Twitter was and then periodically throughout the visit she would ask me to check it to see what her granddaughter was saying.

My mother isn’t enamored of technology beyond using my iPad to look at pictures. If we hooked up a way for her to follow Twitter she’d probably throw us out. But she did want that information and when she wanted it, there was no brooking her. Coming back into the room to tell her there was nothing new led to disappointment, even though I explained that my niece had to choose to enter something and the fact that she was not constantly updating was a good sign since she wasn’t just sitting by her computer, and perhaps out discovering her new friends and environment.


So, going back to the original part of this post, I’m thinking one of the real questions becomes when does a specific need for specific information lead us into the “always connected” life.

So, here’s a quick poll. Is it easy for you to turn off when you want to?