In the December issue of Wired Magazine (UK Edition) there’s an interesting article on Hyperstimulation. The topic is gaining a lot of traction these days, with many notorius names expressing their opinions, ranging from Sir Ken Robinson and Daniel Goleman (with his new book “Focus”) to David Price and his book “Open”. What seems to be on everybodys mind, is how we, and especially kids, manage in a global world which is rapidly changing, driven by technology. And in a sense, technology is rapidly changing our culture, while challenging the recommendations and practices of previous generations.

The Wired article written by Tom Cheshire, whom you can follow here, goes in-depth, with a focus on how kids and teenagers manage while subjected to hyperstimulation. As the following example shows, hyperstimulation is something we’ve all come to experience, in some form or another, whether it be through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Instagram:

Zena Williams, a 13-year-old from Redbridge who wants to be the creative director of a video-game company, tells Wired: “The suggestions pile up and you can scroll down for ten minutes.” Musa Kazim, nine, says: “I literally can’t hear anything when I’m on the computer. I’m just in the zone.” Theo Merten Manser, a 16-year-old, says he regularly uses “ten or 12” social networks at the same time. Young people everywhere are reporting similar hyperstimulation.

The big question is, of course, what consequences this will bring in the future? Today, a lot of tech bloggers are having fiery debates on the social consequences of Google Glass and what its impact will be. Or whether or not the rumoured Apple watch is better. But actually, we already have a big challenge on our hands. As another quote from the article shows, it might not be good with all this hyperstimulation:

What is hyperstimulation doing to children’s brains? Surely nothing good: Manfred Spitzer, a German neuroscientist, calls it “digital dementia”. According to him, a generation is voluntarily lobotomising itself with digital hyperstimulation, reposting Tumblrs until catatonia comes.

On the other hand, not much research actually exist on the subject and I suppose this is why it’s mostly met with concern and a tinge of fear. What seems to be the way forward, since social media and frequently switching between different tasks isn’t going away any time soon1, is to teach kids, and ourselves, strategies to control the hyperstimulation:

“What we should be focusing on is ways of helping kids develop strategies to manage attention.” It wouldn’t be hard to do, either. “Absolutely this is something that schools should teach,” Thompson says. “The great news is it’s pretty teachable. You could comfortably put this in the curriculum for elementary and secondary schools… Learning to deal with social media – they’re chasing it out of schools, but that’s exactly where they should have kids interacting with social media.”

It’s going to be interesting to follow how this all develops. But it is so absolutely critical that we embrace new technologies to get the best out of them, especially since the technology fastrack of our times isn’t letting up. And neither should it. But it also calls for new approaches, most of all, in the classrooms.

As David Snowden has said2, ‘best practice is by definition, past practice’. It’s time to keep up.

  1. No, multitasking doesn’t exist. And no, it’s not gender specific either: Then there’s what many people think of as “splitting” attention in multitasking, which cognitive science tells us is a fiction, too. Rather than having a stretchable balloon of attention to deploy in tandem, we have a narrow, fixed pipeline to allot. Instead of splitting it, we actually switch rapidly. Goleman, D. (2013). Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.

  2. Snowden, D. J., & Boone, M. E. (2007). A leader’s framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review, 85(11), 68.