In logistics too, digital technologies now play a role on many levels. Are we using our brain less as a result? And would that be bad at all?
“You don’t need a brain anymore!” someone proclaimed at the Logistics Day 2013. The group was excited about a pair of smart glasses and how they are used in order picking. The verdict on the brain came as the organizers were showing the pick-by-voice system. Two places on a shelf lit up in red – an order. Later, the moderators put the Google Glass on and assured the audience: intelligence is not important; the machine assists. Follow the light or the instructions on the display. And so, it goes on: pocket calculator? No, Excel. Road maps? What for, we have GPS. My only user experience workshop taught me one basic fact: the aim is for the user to think as little as possible. It has to be intuitive, or as many put it: “foolproof”. The entire tech industry is working to reduce the load on our brain. Is that good for the brain?
During lockdown, it was good for all of us to handle the associated surge in online orders using IT and automated systems. Vaccine logistics, too, run on more than pencil and paper. New technologies in logistics are visible and tangible: from repetitive activities in the warehouse to complex big-data calculations.
Effects on the brain
Nevertheless, there have not yet been any neuroscientific studies into how new technologies in supply chain management affect the human brain. There have been some interesting findings from general studies on the use of digital technologies, however. After all, the environment in which we live our daily lives is similar: a lot of information, several information channels, multitasking, less real communication with colleagues and highly fragmented working days. What is that doing to us? One thing is for sure: we are retaining our brain; the size of the brain last changed two million years ago.
So, the volume is holding steady – even in the digital age with pick-by-voice and parking assist systems. What neuroscientists are now investigating is the activity in the individual parts of the brain. The connections between them are more important than cranial capacity. In the edition of ‘Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience’ (June 2020) on the digital revolution and its impact on the human brain and behavior, the answer to the question “Are digital technologies making us more stupid?” is “no”. We are changing. More specifically, in terms of how we notice things, how long we pay attention, what we focus on and how we sleep. In the latter case: for less time and more fitfully.
Every discussion on digital technologies – whether in the office, on Twitter or in a scientific essay – starts with their effects on the brain. We are committing less to memory. Hans Rusinek, a German economist and publicist, once asked philosophically: “Is it stupid to remove something from our head, or is it intelligent to do precisely that?”. As well as during working hours, we are also constantly receiving new information in our private lives. Checking Messenger, reading news tickers or picking out series. Professor Michael Saling, a neuropsychologist at the University of Melbourne, describes a natural mechanism that protects the brain from being overwhelmed with information: forgetting. When it gets too much, this eases the load on the brain.
Bad for the brain
Easing the load is also important for attention span. The myth has been scientifically proven: the more time we spend in front of a screen, the significantly greater the chances of attention deficit disorder. For adults and for children. Constant attention switching and multitasking weaken the brain – it can no longer find the time to recover. The shorter attention span dictates the pace for all areas of life. A study on behalf of stationery manufacturer BIC in the UK shows when test subjects start to lose their patience. A website has got 16 seconds, queuing at the checkout can take no more than 30 seconds and, if an e-mail has been marked as important, the sender is just about losing patience after 90 minutes.
Attentiveness and focus are the favorite areas on brain scans. Many studies have shown that digital technologies stimulate activity in the prefrontal cortex. This area is responsible for short-term memory and quick decisions. We are able to skim though relatively large chunks of information faster and discard whatever is irrelevant. The Canadian cognitive scientist Steven Pinker has this to say on the subject: “Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output.”
From a brain development perspective, the biggest winners of the digital age may be the “digital immigrants”. Compared with millennials, their earlier brain development was not exposed to as many stimuli from digital media; they grew up with more social interaction offline and without the pressures of multitasking. In digital immigrants, it has been observed that even a simple online search activates neural circuits that control the decision-making process and complex thought. Learning something new (not just about digital tools) is doping for the brain. It becomes more active. Plus, the feel good hormone dopamine is released in the brain because the person is curious.
New media also have an interesting effect on visual awareness; that is, the ability to perceive and process the visual world. A group of researchers led by James Rosser studied surgeons who performed an abdominal endoscopy (laparoscopy). Through regular video gaming (three hours a week on average), they improved their laparoscopic surgical skills and suturing technique by 42 percent compared with colleagues who did not play video games.
Does brain fitness help?
How do we protect our brain from negative effects, and how do we strengthen the positive sides? Research into the effects of new technologies on human beings and the debate over those effects are ongoing. The booming brain fitness business is also triggering discussions. Sudoku and pattern recognition are most probably just a way of training for sudoku and pattern recognition. The neuroscientist Steven Pinker stresses: “Educated people do not pump up their brains by doing intellectual fitness exercises; rather, they immerse themselves in their specialist fields.” Logistics planners plan, expeditors expedite, export managers kept abreast of customs-related changes. To sum up, the question “Is Google (or a piece of materials planning software) making us stupid?” is not a useful one. It is always about how digital tools are used. The skills we need today are concentration, self-control and critical thought, and these come just from education and training.
This article was originally published on logistik-heute.de.