The New Technology Brain

ADHD is a disorder usually first seen in childhood. It is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. ADHD is often referred to as a chronic disorder that, in many cases, persists into adulthood. For teachers unskilled with students who suffer with ADHD having one or more students with the disorder can make a simple lesson seem like a nightmare as students with the disorder call out, act distracted, disinterested, fidgety or simply do not listen and disrupt the lecture. When adults have this disorder their work environment may seem chaotic and disorganized. It seems to be a fact that more and more people both young and older are being diagnosed with ADHD lately and the race to understand why is heating up.

I have a possible answer as to why today there are more people of all ages who seem to have a new diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder than ever before. But, before I get there we need to define a few terms: First – inattention. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of psychiatric disorders inattention exists when someone has six or more of the following: failing to give attention to details and making careless mistakes, difficulty sustaining attention, seemingly unable to listen when spoken to, not following through on instructions, difficulty organizing, avoiding engaging in tasks requiring attention, often losing things, being easily distracted and being habitually forgetful. The definition of hyperactive is being fidgety, difficulty remaining seated when it is expected, feeling restless, difficulty quietly engaging in activities, on the go as if a motor is diving the behavior and talking excessively. Impulsivity is defined as having difficulty waiting their turn and interruptive of others.  A more concise definition of impulsivity is acting without thinking of the consequences of the action. A somewhat related problem is that of compulsivity. Someone who is compulsive repeats the same behavioral patterns and habits which are usually purposeless without any real positive outcome. Impulsivity and compulsivity share the commonality that they are both disorders of impulse.

Take a moment and think of your use of technology over the last 10 to 15 years. A decade ago how often did you consult with your computer, tablet or Smartphone screen? Now compare that with the number of times you pull out your Smartphone today. If you are honest you would likely report a 30 to 50 percent or more increase in use. We now feel the urge, the impulse, to check E mails, text messages or play a digital game at all times even the most inopportune ones. We have all been to meetings, on public transportation or even been to prayers when someone, perhaps even ourselves, have impulsively pulled out the phone and acted as if there were no one else around, completely inattentive to the environment and clicked away as if being driven by a motor – all signs of ADHD.

The increase in cell phone use seems to be correlated with an increase of impulsivity, inattention and hyperactivity. While correlation does not equal causation this trend can only mean one thing – that increasing use of the new technology may be altering our brains and making us more ADHD like. As a result we are more easily distracted, driven, disengaged from one another and rude. Think about the lady who just this morning while crossing the street directly in front of the car I was in was so focused on her Smartphone that she did not notice that the light had changed as she stepped into traffic. Or think about the man who at yesterday’s business meeting who was checking his E mails or perhaps his Twitter feed during a heated discussion of business plans. These are examples of impulsive urges, and inattentive and hyperactive behaviors.

Our daily functioning, our basic consciousness even perhaps our brains are being transformed in colossal fashion by the use of the new and expanding technologies. Habit formation is only one of the important alterations taking place as a result of the accessibility of Smartphone technologies. Habit formation is an important and often useful tool. It is the brains way to create a shortcut to efficiency. But, many of the habits that a Smartphone creates are related not necessarily to efficiency but to the instantaneous ability to resolve an impulse – to get an answer, to find out who is texting, to check if a certain E mail was received, to win a digital game. It all sounds pretty impulsive, inattentive and hyperactive to me.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."