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Meditation and Mindfulness: a cure for the Google effect?

Technology has become an integral part of our society; functioning as a well-informed friend that guides us through the daily obstacles we come across. From remembering important numbers, to directing us to our favorite restaurants, we can rely on details being accessible with the tap of a screen. But with this ease of access comes inherent consequences; we are shallow and unobservant, allowing key information to pass us by while we attempt to interpret the constant influx of information bombarding us. But what if we could diminish our need for our devices? What if a few minutes a day could equate to increased recall of information and memory consolidation? Meditation and mindfulness may offer a potential counter to the ubiquitous digital dependence plaguing our society and serve to benefit us in the long run.

The Internet has been revered for its positive impacts but there have been many repercussions as a result of its widespread use, two of them being shortened attention spans and consequently, poor memory. In a study published in July 2011 in Science Magazine, Sparrow, Liu, Wegner found that when information is going to be available later, subjects tend to “have lower rates of recall for information itself” and higher rates of recall for where to access the information.  The “Google effect” is the adopted term for this unconscious reliance on the Internet and its prevalence is emphasized by the induction of the word “Google” as a verb in laymen vocabulary. We experience this phenomenon when we rely on the GPSs in our smartphones to lead us to the restaurant we want to go to for dinner instead of using a map to find our way. Whenever we don’t know the answer to a question, we can always resort to going on the Internet and finding out in a matter of seconds. But the fact of the matter is that necessary information can be memorized; we do not need to be completely reliant upon Google for everything. There are instances where memorizing information is better than having to access it externally. And that is where meditation can come into play.

Meditation is a mind-body practice with a key emphasis on focusing an individual’s attention upon themselves or their surroundings. Over the past decade, a variety of studies have been conducted to explore the neurological and physiological effects of meditation, garnering strong evidence for positive results on the mind and body. Among findings regarding the brain, articles published to the U.S. National Library of Medicine have demonstrated that meditation can delay brain aging by stabilizing the decrease in cortical structure, decrease stress with changes in amygdala gray matter, and assist in learning and emotion regulation through increases in gray matter in the left hippocampus. Meditation also causes the temporo-parietal junction to exhibit gray matter enlargement, resulting in better perspective taking, empathy, compassion; all key attributes that help to create emphatic learners. These findings suggest that meditation counteracts shortened attention spans and poor memory by correlating with heightened capacity for more focus and understanding, as affection towards information promotes retention and recall.

Further advocating the beneficial aspects of meditation, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara published an article in the journal of Psychological Sciences earlier this year stating the effects of meditation upon working memory capacity and mind wandering. By increasing the former and reducing the latter, meditation allows for information to be encoded more extensively and without distraction. The implications of these findings are substantial as meditation can elicit such strong biological responses through a non-surgical mind-body intervention and what’s more, the trade-off is a few minutes of quiet internalization and concentration each day.

Meditation is an elegantly simple method to balance out the aggressive stimuli that demand our attention on a daily basis. It can be an option for those who want to maintain some independence from technology or for those who want to clear their minds but this is not to say that meditation is the answer to our digital dilemma. The world is changing and in order to be active members of our communities, we must adapt to the dynamic circumstances of our society; we can apply meditation in moderation in order to make sense of the clutter in our minds, but we cannot relinquish our grasp on technology completely. Technology is a two-sided coin and brings us many benefits despite its consequences and with practice and implementation of meditation, we can hone our abilities to focus on what we need know and learn to live more presently along the way.

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