The Swedish researcher warned that the increased reliance on gadgets significantly hinders children's development. Another factor that contributes to this tendency is that nowadays children spend less and less time playing, which has a detrimental effect on the thinking process.
John Ratey: I think it's happening all over the world, we're seeing so much more time spent — especially with the young, although now it's everywhere — on screens, and when you spend time on screens you take in information but you're not putting out much. I think this has a big impact on our brains, how we learn, how we use our brains to think and ponder things and come up with new ideas and be creative.
I think Sweden is a good country to show this, because they keep great data on everyone. And if they are showing it, it must be something to pay attention to.
Radio Sputnik: Screens now are interactive, so why is this so much worse than television? Of course, you couldn't carry your television around with you — there were a couple of portable options, but those weren't really widespread.
RS: Now we have a capability to instantly ask a question and research something. But surely there must be some benefit from video games and from the availability of knowledge.
John Ratey: Yes, absolutely, there is no question that that's been helpful. But at the same time we haven't had to think about it, to worry about it, to challenge our brains. Brains love to be challenged — that's the way we grow them.
You also mentioned play — yes, people are sitting in front of screens. This is a huge problem throughout the world: when we are moving, we are activating more brain cells than in any other human activity, even than when we are thinking or playing video games or even taking in information. The younger generation is not moving nearly as much as they used to.
RS: What about "Pokemon Go," when you have an artificial intelligence and virtual reality and you are actually moving? Is that going to be an improvement? Or is there something wrong with this well?
John Ratey: No, no, Pokemon Go is great, because it got kids moving, but for what — two days, five days, three weeks at the max? But you are right, artificial intelligence, our Fitbits and movement monitors can be very encouraging, since we are so digitally-driven often times. And this can lead people to not only monitor what they are doing, but also press themselves to get in their 10,000 steps or 2,000 steps or whatever it is they're after. It can be a constant reminder, and they're getting smaller and smaller and better and better at monitoring our physical movements, and I think this can help.
RS: What can we do to lessen the impact of all these newfangled screens that we have? Are there any specific guidelines to what the maximum time is that we should spend in front of screens, or ways to counteract the bad effects of sitting in front of screens?
John Ratey: You know, when they came out with the various things in Xbox, there were a lot of games you could play that were very active. They're getting better and better. You don't have to wear devices as much, and it encourages people to play and move with their devices.
There isn't a limit that we know about. You can make people set limits, like, two hours a day using devices — parents are doing that, but it's so hard, because the parents are on their devices all the time as well.
As a result we lose that interaction — that face-to-face human interaction that is so necessary. Studies now are showing, for instance, that the best way to preserve our brains as we age is socialization. It is better than exercise itself, which is the second big way to keep our brains preserved so we don't jump into cognitive decline and lead to Alzheimer's disease, which is now such an epidemic.