"The brain shrinks when it has little to do."
"Innovation is often mentioned today. The greatest source of innovation, are children: their ideas are refreshing, their curiosity infinite and their imagination invigorating. A society that stifles this source remains stuck in the past; it deprives itself of its own capacity for renewal."
Florian Osswald, Director of the Educational Section of the Goetheanum.
The Steiner School in Silicon Valley
Three quarters of parents of the Silicon Valley Waldorf School work in leading high technology companies, such as Google, Apple, Yahoo and Hewlett-Packard. But the educational tools of Steiner schools, including that of Silicon Valley, are anything but high tech: pens and paper, knitting needles and sometimes clay. No computer in sight. No screens. They are not allowed in the classroom, and the school does not recommend their use by children at home. An article on the school cited among others a group of the Department of Public Relations Google, saying it is absurd to believe that an application on a tablet could teach reading or arithmetic to children better than a ‘flesh and blood’ teacher.
Do Digital Media make us Crazy?
According to Professor Manfred Spitzer, the internet, computers and so on feed addiction. Children and adolescents lose the taste for activity, becoming obese, lazy and melancholic when they remain seated in front of digital media, often for long periods.
The figures are alarming. According to the German Federal Government’s annual report on drug prevention services, about one sixth of children and adolescents are considered problematic internet users. The situation in Switzerland is certainly similar. According to research by Professor Manfred Spitzer, digital media are deeply transforming our lives.
Who to believe?
This courageous scientist has taken great care in his submissions to substantiate all his theses by studies that undermine his many opponents in public debate. According to him all studies published in international journals, scientific or medical are credible. Not so those published in the field of information sciences. Because they are usually financed by the computer industry, they usually lead to other conclusions and so encourage the integration of computers and educational software in educational institutions.
The brain needs real stimuli
Professor Spitzer considers computers in schools and even kindergartens very dangerous: "Digital media reduce our use of the brain, which over time reduces its ability to function." In children and adolescents who use digital media intensively (computers, smartphones, game consoles and television), brain formation itself is hindered, as has been demonstrated by several studies. These showed that the harm done to human beings by digital media depends on the extent they are used and the age of the user. "One of the most important findings of neuroscience in recent decades has been to establish that the brain is more dynamic and more flexible than a muscle that also forms itself through stress," says Dr. Spitzer. Perceptions, thoughts, feelings, experiences, decisions, actions shape the brain, with its million billion connections between nerve cells.
The converse argument would be: "The brain shrinks when it has little to do." According to Professor Spitzer, one finds symptoms of digital dementia in a growing inability to orient oneself, resulting in descent to the lowest social conditions ¬– isolation, depression.
This is why society should ask what can we do; what must we do.
In recent years it has been established that physical weakness in children and adolescents has risen sharply. According to Professor Spitzer this is the consequence of increasing use of digital media and is always accompanied by emotional and intellectual disability: children who spend more screen time have greater difficulties in learning, concentrating, managing themselves, and socialising. Users of violent video games prove less willing to help when faced with real victims of actual violence. Professor Spitzer cites the corresponding studies. Compared to other addictions, addiction to digital media is more difficult to detect because it remains hidden much longer.
Singing, dancing, laughing
Professor Spitzer’s main thesis is that the misuse of the internet, overconsumption of television, time spent too long at the computer, especially games, cause addiction, lack of sleep, overweight and attention disorders, and finally early symptoms of digital dementia. According to him, in the delay of dementia and the fight against the degradation of the brain, the greatest successes are achieved through physical movement and playing sports, dancing, singing, laughter, the practice of musical instrument, writing by hand, the practice of many languages, a large circle of friends, good family relationships, work that is meaningful, a readiness to help others, and a commitment to volunteerism.
Text published with the kind permission of SAMA Baden-Württemberg
Manfred Spitzer, Digital Demenz. Wie wir uns und unsere Kinder um den Verstand bringen, Droemer, Knaur, 2012 (‘Digital Dementia – How we and our children are losing the ability to understand.’)
Manfred Spitzer, Vorsicht, Bildschirm! Elektronische Medien, Gehirnentwicklung, Gesundheit und Gesellschaft, Klett, 2006. (‘Attention, screen! Electronic Media, brain development, health and society.’)
Prof. Manfred Spitzer leads the Ulm University Psychiatric Clinic and the ZNL Transfer-Zentrum for Neuroscience and Learning, which he founded in 2004. A neuro-researcher and psychiatrist, he studies the interface between mind and brain in the field of cognitive and social neuroscience. In his books and television shows, he transmits the findings of neuro science to a wide public in accessible form. The author of ‘Digital Demenz’, in a conference of May 17, 2013 in Stuttgart-Freiberg he warned against the danger of digital dementia brought about by the use of electronic media.