To prepare students to navigate the era of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 which relies on digital technology as the basis for production, marketing, and distribution processes, technology-based learning has been practiced in various developed countries. The use of technology, especially smartphones, to facilitate learning was accelerated by the coronavirus outbreak, during which around 50% of students around the world used a smartphone to attend classes. Technology-based learning, which is even predicted to become a new normal in the post-coronavirus era, is a double-edged sword. It not only offers various benefits but also results in various negative effects if not used wisely. This essay focuses on three potential negative impacts of smartphones use in learning: digital amnesia, information overload, and multitasking.
Digital amnesia is a person’s acute psychological tendency to forget information stored digitally in the memory of electronic devices (mobile phones or computers). This phenomenon arises because the smartphone is not used only as a communication medium but also functions as an executor of various brain tasks, including storing various information. An uncle of mine, now 55 years old, said “We used to memorize dozens of landline numbers belonging to relatives, friends, neighbors, offices, and relations up to the 1980s, when we used only landlines.” “Remembering the birthdays of all family members and close relatives, including children, brothers, sisters, parents, and in-laws is also common”, he added. Kaspersky Lab’s (2016) research in Europe, India, and the U.S. revealed that very few people remember phone numbers when they are 15 years old, more than 70% of parents cannot recall their children's phone numbers, and 49% cannot remember the phone numbers of their husbands or wives. Statistically, 8 out of 10 people rely more on their digital devices than they did 5 years ago. More and more people are relying on digital devices to 'remember' information. Around 32% of Europeans even admitted that smartphones have become their second brain.
If digital amnesia is not prevented, infected students will experience decreased memory and thinking abilities. Learning and memory are two inseparable entities. Learning is a process of developing knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values by combining information stored in biological memory and/or adding new information to existing information. New knowledge obtained through the process of recombination and/or addition of information is then stored in memory. Thus, the more often a person stores information in the memory of his smartphone, the more his memory decreases; and, the memory decrease weakens his learning ability. William James (in Carr, 2017) argues that our brain constructs new ideas and generates critical and conceptual thinking by forming rich intellectual associations between concepts available in our biological memory. For concepts contained in books or the internet to be processed, they should first 'enter' our biological memory. Concepts or information that are outside biological memory cannot be processed by the brain. Thus, the more information we 'store' in smartphone memory, the less information is put into our biological memory, and, consequently, the less we can think about. Because our brain is like a muscle that needs to be trained continuously, the less information we think about, the weaker our thinking ability will be.
Smartphone users are also easily immersed in information overload. Palladino (2011) says that information overload occurs when a person is exposed to more information than his brain can process. In the context of learning, Zimmerman (2018) states that the use of technology in the educational process helps students understand the realities of life and work and undergo continuing education. However, technology also causes students to experience information overload which can have a more detrimental impact than the benefits obtained from the subjects they are involved in because excessive information will reduce the attention span so that individuals are immersed in the information and fail to understand it (Andersen & Palma (2012). If you observe students who search for answers to certain questions on the internet, you can easily detect how information overload depletes their understanding. Since the internet offers so many available options, they become so confused about choosing the best answer that they tend to choose one or two articles that are the easiest to read (with short paragraphs and sentences) to find the desired information, skim through it and take and use it without evaluating its novelty and accuracy. This avoids them to holistically and contextually understand the information. They understand it only in isolated fragments which is easy to forget. Such information certainly cannot be further processed by the brain to expand the students' knowledge.
Multitasking, or doing several activities at the same time, is another negative effect that can arise from using smartphones in learning. Many students today often do their schoolwork while listening to songs and chatting on social media at the same time. The Common Sense Media study (2015) reports that 60% of teens surveyed sent text messages via social media while doing their homework. Then 66% of teens who multitask believe that watching TV and using social media do not reduce the quality of the assignments they do. However, multitasking inevitably results in divided attention or failure to focus. Research in the field of neuroscience reveals that the human brain is not designed to do more than one thing at a time. In learning, multitasking makes students unable to focus on the assignments they are doing or cannot effectively understand the information being studied. In the long term, multitasking can lower learning outcomes. Miller (2016) asserts that multitasking reduces productivity, triggers errors, and discourages creative thinking.
To conclude, the use of technology, including smartphones, in learning is essentially a double-edged sword. a necessity. It does not only offer tremendous benefits for preparing students to navigate the era of the Industrial Revolution 4.0 but can also lead to digital amnesia, information overload, and multitasking which are very detrimental. Students’ tendency to keep information in their smartphones’ memory will emerge digital amnesia that decreases their biological memory and thinking abilities. Information overload avoids students to understand the information holistically and contextually. Multitasking makes students unable to understand the information they are studying or focus on the assignments they are doing. Teachers, therefore, should guide their students to use smartphones wisely.
Anderson, S.P. & Palma, A.D, (2012). Competition for attention in the Information (overload) Age. The RAND Journal of Economics, 43(1), 1-25.
Carr, N. (2017). How Smartphones Hijack Our Minds. The Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-smartphones-hijack-our-minds-1507307811
Kaspersky Lab. (2016).Digital Amnesia at work, the risks and rewards of forgetting in business. http:// newsroom.kaspersky.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/ de/Downloads/PDFs/Digital_Amnesia_at_workthe_risks_and_rewards_of_forgetting_in_business.pdf;
Palladino, L.J. (2011). Find Your Focus Zone: An Effective New Plan to Defeat Distraction and Overload. Atria
Zimmerman, T. (2018). Information Overload & Its Effect on High School Students. Available online at https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc1393764/