Monday, May 20, 2024

Haake: Technology is rotting our brains

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Recent polls suggest half the country may vote against their own self-interests in November. The self-sabotage is head-turning: Christians who defend debauchery; poor people who give their money to a billionaire with rotating Ponzi schemes; and pensioners who don’t understand that tax cuts for the 1% threaten their own entitlements.

As the new Time Magazine interview made clear, Trump has done nothing for the common man and everything for his wealthy donors, yet somehow, that fact doesn’t seem to compute.

To misquote Jesus, the stupid will always be among us.

Our politics reflect a cognitive decline

When Trump celebrated his 2016 win, his declaration, “I love the poorly educated” made headlines. Eight years on, it’s not that half the country supports violent coup attempts, it’s that they sincerely believe the 2020 election was stolen, despite all evidence to the contrary.

The U.S. seems to be slumbering toward “Idiocracy,” a funny-not-funny satire about Americans in the year 2500 who have lost the ability to think. In the movie, Americans elect as President a dimwitted pro-wrestler — President Camacho — because he is loud and manipulative and they don’t know any better. The Trump sequel writes itself.

Funny as that movie was, America’s declining cognition is quite serious. Americans’ logic, language, and reading comprehension levels have fallen measurably. Last year, researchers from Northwestern University and the University of Oregon reported that, while American IQs increased dramatically over the past century, cognitive abilities showed measurable decline between 2006 and 2018. Scores in three of four broad domains of intelligence fell during that period: logic, vocabulary, and visual/mathematical problem-solving.

Excessive use of personal electronics, social media may be to blame

In 1850, unwashed kids aged 6 to 18 were crammed into one smelly school room with no AC and no technology — and often no books — yet still emerged well-versed in Latin, French, humanities and trigonometry.

Today, with whiteboards, laptops, separate rooms for each grade, and teacher/student ratios historically unheard of, student comprehension levels are falling instead of rising. Last year, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, math and reading scores for 13-year-olds hit their lowest scores in decades, which isn’t explained by the COVID-19 gap of recent years.

The explanation may be found in a growing reliance on Smartphones, social media and electronic devices that offer quick and excessive stimulation, dulling the brain’s ability to think critically and organically.

Observational studies in human learning have shown a direct link between children’s exposure to fast-paced television in the first 3 years of life and their subsequent attentional deficits as they age. Excessive sensory stimulation (ESS) during childhood has been shown to increase cognitive and behavioral deficits overall. Even rising levels of ADHD among older children and college students are correlated with subjects’ early exposure to excessive electronic media.

Over-stimulation, overall, reduces our ability to think

It seems logical that overstimulating the human brain with loud colors and noises would, over time, reduce our capacity for critical thinking. Just as over-reliance on crutches can cause leg muscles to atrophy, over-exposure to electronics and addictive but thoughtless social media can atrophy the learning centers of the brain.

Smartphones aren’t the only culprit. Recent studies have also shown that high levels of noise, including exposure to high-decibel music at home or in the car, and loud, omnipresent television, also leads to cognitive impairment and oxidative stress in the brain.

Education levels are affecting U.S. politics

America’s growing political divide may have more to do with education and cognition levels than actual beliefs. By wide margins, the most highly educated Congressional districts in the U.S. elect Democrats, while the least educated districts elect Republicans.

According to Politico, Democrats control 77% of the most highly educated Congressional districts, while Republicans control 64% of the least educated districts. The rural poor love Trump even though Democrats deliver kitchen table results that benefit their lives: jobs, infrastructure, broadband, healthcare and industry regulations so trains don’t derail and parts don’t fly off aircraft at 16,000 feet.

Maximilien Robespierre, one of the most influential figures of the French Revolution, was known for his attacks on the monarchy and his advocacy of democratic reforms.

He famously wrote, “The secret of freedom lies in educating people, whereas the secret of tyranny is in keeping them ignorant.”

Even though Trump’s closest advisors widely regard him as an idiot, he has a conman’s intuition on how to manipulate ignorance.

Sabrina Haake is a Chicago attorney and Gary resident. She writes the Substack newsletter The Haake Take.

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