Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Technology Ushers in Digital Utopia for ADHD Minds, Not Dementia

"my iPhone family pile" by Blake Patterson
Photo by Blake Patterson
In the last week of June the internet news sites were all buzzing about “Digital Dementia”. Oh noes! Your kids’ brains be shrivelin’. Watch out! It’s the cell phone’s fault!

From what I’ve read, “Digital Dementia” was coined by a German author selling a book and made popular in tech savvy South Korea. Yet despite the rise of book reading in youth demographics due in part to the soaring popularity of ebooks, or the rise in communication & empathy skills because of—not despite of—all that abbreviated texting, it is time for another luddite march on technology. Horrors! Your kids don’t remember phone numbers anymore. Burn the iPhones! Unplug their Androids!

Wait. Didn’t we grow up alright with speed dial? I seem to recall phone numbers still just fine. But here’s the trick: I don’t have to. My smartphone remembers all those numbers for me. I can use my mind now to learn Japanese, memorize tunes on my ocarina, or learn Markdown syntax. Important details like social security numbers, birth dates, etc. are still readily recalled. It seems that “Digital Dementia” is a condition coined by a hysterical press looking for link bait.

As a guy with ADHD since before the age of personal electronics, I remember writing down my todos on a piece of paper. They would look like this:
❑ Buy milk
❑ Take out the trash
❑ Don’t forget your dr. appt. at 3pm
If I was lucky, I’d take out the trash. Then I’d go out for milk, get lost in the magazine section of the supermarket, and come home empty handed. I’d remember the doctor appointment a few days later. When my geek friends started walking around with Palm Pilots, I was green with envy. Here was a portable calendar and todo list that nagged you. I’d never forget an appointment or gallon of milk again! So I bought one and embraced my “Digital Utopia”.

Jump forward twenty years and we use smartphones now. My iPhone syncs tasks and calendar events in the cloud with my Mac at home and on my iPad. When an alarm goes off my apartment shakes and rattles from the simultaneous alarms, but I remember what I am supposed to. I’m all for getting my kids to unplug and notice the world around them once in a while, but I’d do them no service by taking away technology. Instead, I teach my kids how to use their smartphones as tools, not toys. They still read books and memorize facts for school all the time. Technology aids us and enhances our lives. I can’t recommend it enough for organizing the ADHD mind. My life would be an ADHD mess without electronic devices to remind me of what I’ve already forgotten.