Why smartphones are making us dumb

A man and a woman look at a smartphone at a shop. (AFP photo)A man and a woman look at a smartphone at a shop. (AFP photo)

Has this ever happened to you?

You're having lunch with a few friends. Midway through the meal, your friends start talking about something you couldn't care less about.

Maybe they start talking about rugby.

But you're the type who can't tell rugby apart from American football, and you don't plan to ever be able to.

Not surprisingly, you feel a sudden overwhelming urge to check your phone.

Maybe you've received a new message or email?

If not, you could play a game of Bejeweled or Angry Birds, or you could watch a funny video.

The danger of smartphones

Most of us have probably found ourselves in a similar situation before.

This example demonstrates how much amazing technology is packed into something so small and portable like a smartphone.

But this example is also a reflection of something much more serious. Something sinister, even.

Smartphones are causing us to become dumb.

The ability to access Facebook, Twitter and YouTube—not to mention everything else on the Internet—using your smartphone means that entertainment is at your fingertips. If not, it's at least in your pocket or bag.

Addicted to entertainment

This ease of access to entertainment is gradually turning us into attention deficient entertainment addicts.

It's almost as though we feel entitled to be constantly entertained.

The speech you're listening to isn't that fascinating?

The meeting you're in isn't that engaging?

The work you're doing isn't that stimulating?

Have no fear. Your smartphone is here to save you from boredom.

We often feel like we have the right to be entertained. If we're experiencing a dull moment, then something must be amiss.

Entertainment getting in the way of education

But we need to recognize that this need to be entertained can interfere with other aspects of our lives.

For one, it interferes with our education.

And by "education", I don't mean schooling. Instead, I'm referring to what happens when you acquire skills, knowledge and insights that enable you to add more value to the lives of others, and to be of greater service to society.

Getting an education requires that we pay attention, even when the information we're getting a grasp of isn't that cool or exciting.

It entails doing what's necessary, what ought to be done. It demands that we have a sense of purpose, and that we make a commitment to apply what we're learning.

The illiterate of the 21st century

We're all aware that being a lifelong learner is a key to enduring success.

It's author Alvin Toffler who observed: "The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn."

In order to become a literate person of the 21st century, we need to ensure that we don't let what we want now (a quick fix of entertainment) get in the way of what we want most (a real education that leads to a life of greater contribution).

Education and the pursuit of excellence

Getting a real education isn't about fleeing from the "temptation" of entertainment. After all, entertainment is a necessary and important part of our lives.

At the heart of it, education is about the pursuit of excellence.

It's about being better than you were yesterday. It's about being the best that you can be.

In closing…

There's no denying that smartphones are a wonderful invention.

I'm definitely not saying that you shouldn't get one. That would be hypocritical of me, especially because I'm a smartphone user myself.

But I am saying that if we allow our need to be entertained to prevent us from becoming truly educated people who are committed to excellence, then our smartphones really are making us dumb.

Daniel Wong is the author of "The Happy Student: 5 Steps to Academic Fulfillment and Success". He is an Education & Personal Excellence coach and speaker. He writes regularly at Download his free ebook, "The Unhappiness Manifesto: Do You Make These 150 Mistakes In The Pursuit Of Happiness?", here. Download his other FREE e-book, "Singapore Scholarship Guide: The $500,000 Decision", here. Together with his team of experts, he conducts The Exam ExcellenceTM (TEE) Programme.

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