Super Cities №24 — Ban Technology to Become Smarter

Brendan Hart

One Big Thing

Be a Smarter Human

In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture. Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not.


If you’ve ever taught a class — or tried to have a spontaneous human moment with someone eyes-deep on their phone — you know that it is nearly impossible to break the Facebook-Twitter-Instagram time and focus monopoly.

There’s always one more thing to look at, one more thing to like, one more thing to share with your friends. This behavior is counter-productive.

According to these studies, at least in the classroom, we learn better without technology. This conclusion strikes me as correct, but I would suggest it is accurate in the corporate environment too.

As I see it, the technology-no technology decision is about aligning rewards.

We’re rewarded, in real time, on social sites — but, importantly, rewarded, over time, for real learning. As a result, we readily justify those extra minutes on Instagram, classroom or not, with the aspirationally implicit goal of catching up on missed learning at some later point. I don’t think it works that way.

I haven’t been on FB in years. It is liberating, mentally and emotionally, and keeps me grounded in the here-and-now reality of life. This is a reward that no number of comments can match.

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