Are the Decline of IQ and Rise of the “Influencer” Related?

Although many argue smart phones are making us dumber, can the opposite be true?

Posted Dec 31, 2017

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Source: Pexels

It has become a cliché anymore the image of the millennial with their head bent over their phone, losing social skills, physically isolated while virtually connected.  We discuss the detrimental impact on youth growing up with devices and social media where the world operates at turbo speed.  We have become highly adept at navigating the virtual world, and many believe this technological “intelligence” extends to its users as well.  On the other hand, there are rising schools of thought and limited data suggesting we are not actually becoming smarter—in fact, for the first time in history we may actually be getting dumber.  This is in stark contrast to the Flynn Effect, often discussed in psychology that suggests minimal increases in intelligence over time.

The raises the natural question: are we gaining intelligence or losing it?  It is of course a complicated question without straightforward answers.  There is recent evidence that highly educated women are having less children which will, of course, impact the gene pool over time.  This is a commonsensical argument and one that many women in high-powered fields can attest to and witness time and again.  There is also evidence from research such as that conducted by Stanford University biologist Gerald Crabtree indicating that over the last 3,000 years we have seen a decline in our intellectual fitness due to an easier lifestyle.

In our daily lives many of us bemoan frustrations with relatively innocuous occurrences such as slow service, mistakes from salespersons and email clogging our inbox.  Not obvious biological threats.  While chronic anxiety is highly problematic with individuals remaining in “fight or flight” mode for extended periods of time, we are still relatively safe and secure in comparison with life thousands of years ago.  However, the lack of scanning for threats, easily accessible food and shelter can and likely has made us slower to react, stay in adequate fitness to flee dangerous situations, and had detrimental impacts. 

Add to this situation the growing popularity of “influencers” and the ability to support oneself through selfies and product placement.  Many youth believe they can make a lifestyle out of simply existing.  And its impact is being seen with greater intensity each day.  When many youth are being priced out of the exceedingly expensive college and university system and we are turning into a participation trophy society, there emerges an entitled generation with little skills and many demands.  After all, what exactly do the Kardashians do other than eat at fancy restaurants, carry designer handbags, drive Bentleys, and design lip products and denim that fits plus size women?  They make opulence look easy and deserved. 

As such, our society becomes increasingly stratified as is our American tendency to operate in extremes.  You either have double degrees from Harvard or are working the cash register at Barney’s with little hopes or opportunities toward upward mobility.  However, the picture need not be so grim.  The relatively new rise in apps that promote intelligence, critical thinking and personal self-growth is growing, and hopefully a much-needed anti-dote to our plug in and zone out culture.  After all, when we are bombarded by social media promoting a buy now pay later mentality, logic quickly goes out the window.

Recently, I downloaded the Skimm* app (which I’m sure was very strategically targeted to me in my Instagram feed).  After reading the reviews, I gave it a shot and was pleasantly surprised.  As someone embarrassingly out of touch with world affairs and feeling more and more distant to news the less I understood, I found a highly accessible way of building back my knowledge base.  While many have criticized such apps as meant to talk down to women or being trite, I can honestly say I know far more now than I did a few weeks ago with regular perusing.  Apps geared at building cognitive skills such as Elevate and Lumosity have been around for a few years as well, helping users with memory and problem-solving skills.  Meditation apps such as the free Insight Timer app offer users the opportunity to unplug and develop insight and deep personal growth.  Apps such as TED allow users to access lectures by renown leaders in their fields.

It seems then that for all the ways we may be getting out of touch or losing a sense of sharpness, logic or critical thinking, there are also rays of hope.  The growing trend of top universities featuring free classes to the masses online is further making education and intellectual stimulation more accessible than ever.  Unfortunately, they are not trendy and sexy and cannot provide free swag to influencers and go underutilized.  But perhaps in the New Year we can all set an intention for growth in some way.  Maybe it is learning more abut global affairs or even just politics in our own country.  Or you commit to doing more puzzles and building your spatial reasoning, or meditating and praying.  Whatever it is, may we all strive for growth each and every day into the New Year and beyond.

*Please note this is not a paid advertisement for the Skimm.  I am not an influencer and while I wish I were paid in free Dowdle puzzles and apps, this is not the case for this particular millennial.