Oct 252013
 

Another program update, another software update on your phone, your computer… it’s endless, this learning of new things.  It gets annoying, even more, it’s hard.  Just when you’ve figured out how to use a new gadget, or navigate the current operating system, some manufacturer comes out with something new and the learning starts all over again.  In our busy lives, who has the time to keep up with every innovation?

As annoying as it may seem, there’s actually a good reason to  learn how to use a new device or new procedure.  Every time we engage in a learning process we stimulate our brains and develop stronger cognitive abilities.  In other words, we’re helping ourselves get smarter.  Or, in the case of older individuals, we’re keeping up our thinking skills.

What’s really going on when we learn something new?

Our brain has the ability to change and adapt to new experiences, as well as repair itself by compensating from illness and injury.  This is called “brain plasticity.”  While a great deal of learning goes on from childhood through adolescence and the young adult period, we never lose the ability to keep learning, keep developing our thinking, our cognitive functioning.

By engaging ourselves in challenging, new tasks we take advantage of our lifelong capacity for strengthening our thinking skills, using our brain’s plasticity.  Learning new procedures, stretching our memory to remember information, following new patterns of sequencing —  what’s required in using many technological devices — helps maintain our thinking ability.

So is all this technology really making me smarter?

Any new experience that stretches our minds not only adds information to what we know but actually strengthens our ability to learn new procedures, to adapt to new systems.  Yes, to become smarter.

So all these annoying updates that require learning and adjusting to new procedures really do stimulate the brain’s ability to keep on learning.  If we don’t challenge our minds, we reduce the ability to learn new things.  The adage, “use it or lose it” isn’t simply a catchy phrase.  By stretching our thinking we not only add to what we know but also help insure that we can remember new procedures and  learn new information in the future.

We can still grumble and complain about how much time we have to spend learning to use new updates and procedures, but they’re really good for our minds and making us smarter.

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Check back next week for more thoughts on cognition, communications and executive function.