Has my brain actually atrophied due to my addiction to media like Netflix and YouTube and my reliance on AI (ChatGPT) to write content for me? And do I need to remember things anymore, when everything I need is just a tap or click away? It’s honestly so easy now, I just don’t really need to remember things or even make much of an effort to create stuff anymore. But is this damaging my brain? The short answer is – yes!

Learning something means that you’re able to recall that thing when needed. Need to tie your shoe lace? Phew, that’s something you actually learned earlier and can recall when needed. Need to send a report to a client, but need to look up your directory to remember who and where to send it? – that’s not something you’ve learned.

We’re inundated with information every moment; some say as much as 100,000 words per day, or 34 Gigabytes of data each day! Learning everything you receive would be like memorising every word of Harper Lee’s, To Kill a Mockingbird… every single day! And this is just not something we’re designed to do! So our brain protects us from this by making learning a little harder than just being exposed to something new. Can you just imagine how incredibly taxing it would be to try and recall everything you saw, touched, smelled, ate, or heard every single day?

Learning takes extra effort – it starts with ATTENTION. To learn something, you need to give it your full attention. Put aside those distractions and focus on one thing.

The next step is referred to by neurologists and neuroscientists as ENCODING. While it sounds technical, it simply means placing the information in your brain in such a way so that it may be recalled. And to do this successfully, you will need to repeat that information. Whether it’s an action, or words, REPETITION is the golden key to your memory and learning.

Researchers have discovered numerous interesting ways of encoding information so that you can recall it better. From spaced recall, to visual collation and much more. But that’s a whole other series of insights that you can access here.

But at the very least, we must be aware of the importance of repetition – as this is the minimum requirement for us to learn something new. And here’s the kicker: the more you try to memorise things, the better you get at it. Not just the thing you’re trying to learn, but learning in general.

So the advice is: pick up a book, start a course, consider a language or instrument, maybe martial arts or even cooking classes! Just make a commitment to yourself that you’re not going to let your beautiful mind atrophy. At least not without a fight.

Dan Hill

Further reading and supporting research articles:

  1. “FOMO, digital dementia, and our dangerous experiment” by L. Dossey (2014) – This study discusses how heavy internet use may overdevelop certain parts of the brain while potentially causing shrinkage and damage in adolescents.
  2. “Online social network size is reflected in human brain structure” by R. Kanai et al. (2012) – This research identifies specific brain regions associated with the size of online social networks and their effects on cognition.
  3. “Carpe diem instead of losing your social mind: Beyond digital addiction and why we all suffer from digital overuse” by C. Montag and P. Walla (2016) – This article examines the broader implications of digital overuse on social lives and mental health.
  4. “The Power of the Like in Adolescence: Effects of Peer Influence on Neural and Behavioral Responses to Social Media” by L.E. Sherman et al. (2016) – This study looks at how peer influence via social media can affect the brain’s responses and behavior in adolescents.
  5. “There’s Enough Awareness about the Damage That Social Media Does: A Thematic Analysis of the Relationships between Social Media Use, Mental Wellbeing, and Activism” by C. Pepper et al. (2023) – This paper explores the dual nature of social media’s impact on mental health, balancing its benefits for activism with potential harm.
  6. “Ethics of the attention economy: The problem of social media addiction” by V.R. Bhargava and M. Velasquez (2021) – This article discusses the ethical implications of social media addiction and its effects on brain function.
  7. “The impact of social media on society” by J. Amedie (2015) – This study explores the addictive nature of social media and its broader societal impacts.
  8. “How early media exposure may affect cognitive function: A review of results from observations in humans and experiments in mice” by D.A. Christakis and J.S.B. Ramirez (2018) – This review examines the effects of early media exposure on brain development and cognitive function.
  9. “Effects of exposure to self-harm on social media: Evidence from a two-wave panel study among young adults” by F. Arendt et al. (2019) – This study investigates the effects of self-harm content on social media on young adults.
  10. “Exercise and the brain: something to chew on” by van Praag H. (2009) in Trends in Neurosciences.
    • This article discusses how physical exercise can promote neurogenesis and improve cognitive function, highlighting the negative effects of inactivity.
  11. “Effects of physical activity and exercise training on cognitive and brain functions in older adults” by Hillman CH, Erickson KI, Kramer AF. (2008) in Nature Reviews Neuroscience.
    • This review emphasises the importance of physical activity in maintaining brain health and preventing cognitive decline and brain atrophy.
  12. “The Effects of Physical Activity and an Enriched Environment on Hippocampal Neurogenesis and Plasticity: Implications for Mental Health” by van Praag H, Kempermann G, Gage FH. (2000) in Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences.
    • The study explores how environmental enrichment and physical activity can enhance brain plasticity and counteract atrophy.
  13. “The impact of aerobic exercise on the structure of the aging brain” by Colcombe SJ, Kramer AF. (2003) in Neurobiology of Aging.
    • This research shows that aerobic exercise can lead to increases in brain volume, particularly in aging populations.
  14. “Use it or lose it: aerobic fitness and the aging brain” by Erickson KI, Raji CA, Lopez OL, Becker JT, Rosano C, Newman AB, Gach HM, Thompson PM, Ho AJ, Kuller LH. (2010) in Annals of Neurology.
    • This study supports the idea that maintaining physical fitness can protect against brain atrophy in older adults.
  15. “Cognitive reserve in aging and Alzheimer’s disease” by Stern Y. (2009) in Lancet Neurology.
    • This article discusses the concept of cognitive reserve and how engaging in mentally stimulating activities can help maintain brain health and prevent atrophy.