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Social media has made Gen Z less engaged in the classroom, says math lecturer Clio Cresswell
When Cresswell returned to teaching after a five-year break, she noticed a marked difference in the ways undergraduates approached learning in the classroom.
- Mathematics lecturer noticed the changes in her students after returning to teaching after a five-year break.
- She says her students are noticeably less engaged, increasingly on their smartphones or computers, and ask more "stupid questions."
- A batch of results from an ongoing National Institutes of Health study recently showed alarming results about the impacts that screen use has on developing brains.
Clio Cresswell, a mathematics lecturer at the University of Sydney and author of Mathematics and Sex, recently returned to the classroom after a five-year break from teaching math.
But when she returned, she noticed an immediate difference in the ways in which her undergraduate students engaged the class and material: They showed a diminishing capability for "linked thinking," which is presumably the ability to connect and make use of concepts from various domains, similar to abstract thinking.
"These days students are so busy posting on social media — 'love the burger,' 'great fries' — that if something tragic happens to a loved one they struggle to understand why they're feeling the way they do," Cresswell told The Weekend Australian. "They've trained themselves in first-step thinking. Their worlds are constructed of disconnected moments."
Whether increased technology use is making students less able or likely to engage in linked thinking, or other modes of thinking, is unclear. But Cresswell said that, in her classrooms at least, she's noticed that students have become markedly more passive.
"They don't turn up for lectures and they don't ask questions," she said, adding later that she sees a sea of "glazed eyes" staring at screens when she looks out at her students. "They have no idea about the interactive process."
Cresswell said this portends a major problem: Our society, which is increasingly dependent on technology and algorithms, might soon be divided into two groups: the few who understand math, and the vast majority to whom it's a mystery.
"I'm seeing a big problem in a society in which everything is maths-based," she told The Weekend Australian. "Fewer and fewer people know how maths works, and they're asking more and more stupid questions and getting more and more disenfranchised."
A landmark study on screen time and kids' brains yields alarming results
It's hard to say what exactly caused the shift in behavior of Cresswells' students, and whether that shift represents a broader trend in society. Still, it's safe to assume that increased computer and smartphone use is in some ways changing how young people think, and therefore how they might approach learning in the classroom.
New research provides some of the first hard data on the subject.
This year, the National Institutes of Health released the first batch of results from a $300-million study that's using MRIs to examine the effects of screen time on developing brains. The results showed that kids who spent more than two hours per day on screens tended to score lower on language and thinking tests. Alarmingly, kids who spent more than seven hours per day on electronic devices showed premature thinning of the cortex, which Dr. Gaya Dowling of the NIH described as a "maturational process" that typically happens later in development.
It's too early to know what to make of the findings.
"We don't know if it's being caused by the screen time," said Dowling. "We don't know yet if it's a bad thing. It won't be until we follow them over time that we will see if there are outcomes that are associated with the differences that we're seeing in this single snapshot."
Still, scientists are attempting to track the effects of unprecedentedly radical change in the way people use technology, so it's probably not a good idea to conceptualize kids' current use of smartphones and computers as somehow analogous to, say, teenagers chatting on landline phones for hours during the 1970s, as former Google manager Tristan Harris told 60 Minutes:
... there's a narrative that, oh, I guess they're just doing this like we used to gossip on the phone, but what this misses is that your telephone in the 1970s didn't have a thousand engineers on the other side of the telephone who were redesigning it to work with other telephones and then updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive.
The idea of 'absolute time' is an illusion. Physics and subjective experience reveal why.
- Since Einstein posited his theory of general relativity, we've understood that gravity has the power to warp space and time.
- This "time dilation" effect occurs even at small levels.
- Outside of physics, we experience distortions in how we perceive time — sometimes to a startling extent.
Physics without time<p>In his book "The Order of Time," Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli suggests that our perception of time — our sense that time is forever flowing forward — could be a highly subjective projection. After all, when you look at reality on the smallest scale (using equations of quantum gravity, at least), time vanishes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If I observe the microscopic state of things," writes Rovelli, "then the difference between past and future vanishes … in the elementary grammar of things, there is no distinction between 'cause' and 'effect.'"</p><p>So, why do we perceive time as flowing <em>forward</em>? Rovelli notes that, although time disappears on extremely small scales, we still obviously perceive events occur sequentially in reality. In other words, we observe entropy: Order changing into disorder; an egg cracking and getting scrambled.</p><p>Rovelli says key aspects of time are described by the second law of thermodynamics, which states that heat always passes from hot to cold. This is a one-way street. For example, an ice cube melts into a hot cup of tea, never the reverse. Rovelli suggests a similar phenomenon might explain why we're only able to perceive the past and not the future.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any time the future is definitely distinguishable from the past, there is something like heat involved," Rovelli wrote for the <a href="https://www.ft.com/content/ce6ef7b8-429a-11e8-93cf-67ac3a6482fd" target="_blank"><em>Financial Times</em></a>. "Thermodynamics traces the direction of time to something called the 'low entropy of the past', a still mysterious phenomenon on which discussions rage."</p>
The strange subjectivity of time<p>Time moves differently atop a mountain than it does on a beach. But you don't need to travel any distance at all to experience strange distortions in your perception of time. In moments of life-or-death fear, for example, your brain would release large amounts of adrenaline, which would speed up your internal clock, causing you to perceive the outside world as moving slowly.<br></p><p>Another common distortion occurs when we focus our attention in particular ways.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"If you're thinking about how time is <em>currently</em> passing by, the biggest factor influencing your time perception is attention," Aaron Sackett, associate professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, told <em><a href="https://gizmodo.com/why-does-time-slow-down-and-speed-up-1840133782" target="_blank">Gizmodo</a></em>.<em> "</em>The more attention you give to the passage of time, the slower it tends to go. As you become distracted from time's passing—perhaps by something interesting happening nearby, or a good daydreaming session—you're more likely to lose track of time, giving you the feeling that it's slipping by more quickly than before. "Time flies when you're having fun," they say, but really, it's more like "time flies when you're thinking about other things." That's why time will also often fly by when you're definitely <em>not</em> having fun—like when you're having a heated argument or are terrified about an upcoming presentation."</p><p>One of the most mysterious ways people experience time-perception distortions is through psychedelic drugs. In an interview with <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/14/carlo-rovelli-exploding-commonsense-notions-order-of-time-interview" target="_blank"><em>The Guardian</em></a>, Rovelli described a time he experimented with LSD.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"It was an extraordinarily strong experience that touched me also intellectually," he said. "Among the strange phenomena was the sense of time stopping. Things were happening in my mind but the clock was not going ahead; the flow of time was not passing any more. It was a total subversion of the structure of reality."<br></p><p>It seems few scientists or philosophers believe time is completely an illusion.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"What we call <em>time</em> is a rich, stratified concept; it has many layers," Rovelli told <em><a href="https://physicstoday.scitation.org/do/10.1063/PT.6.4.20190219a/full/" target="_blank">Physics Today</a>.</em> "Some of time's layers apply only at limited scales within limited domains. This does not make them illusions."</p>What <em>is</em> an illusion is the idea that time flows at an absolute rate. The river of time might be flowing forever forward, but it moves at different speeds, between people, and even within your own mind.
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.
- One especially mysterious thing about the asteroid impact, which killed the dinosaurs, is how it transformed Earth's tropical rainforests.
- A recent study analyzed ancient fossils collected in modern-day Colombia to determine how tropical rainforests changed after the bolide impact.
- The results highlight how nature is able to recover from cataclysmic events, though it may take millions of years.