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Technology, ADD, and the LSAT

BPPtodd-lsat-blog-computersIf you are reading this blog, then there’s a pretty good chance that you hope to get a great score on the October LSAT. Summer classes are right around the corner, and you are cautiously optimistic because you have heard that the LSAT is hard. Like really hard. The truth is that the LSAT tests a very learnable set of skills, and will not seem as intimidating once you dive into the proper study methods and you learn to think the right way about the exam. The LSAT will test your ability to pick apart logical structure, make deductions, and at times will require you to organize large chunks of information. Make no mistake, this is going to take quite a bit of concentration and focus, which brings me to the point of this post.

The New York Times recently introduced the first of a series of articles examining how technology is actually re-wiring our brains. All of you crazy college kids love your iPhones, your tweeting and texting, and the constant barrage of e-mail alerts and two-sentence status updates. Turns out, all of this stuff that is supposed to make life easier and more advanced, actually…well, could be making you dumber. That’s why whenever I want to make weekend plans or see what my friends are up to, I write a long, handwritten letter (with a quill) and then hand it to the mailman. I then sit for days, reading the newspaper and any other local periodicals that I can get my hands on.

Let’s be honest here — I’m 24 years old, and I am probably just as attached to my smart phone as you are. However, this Times article should nonetheless be somewhat unnerving, especially as you prepare to study for an exam that, hate to say it, is going to require a lot of uninterrupted, intense concentration. Scientists have confirmed that all of the constant updates, e-mails, and news headlines actually provoke excitement in our brains by releasing a dopamine squirt. When we’re not getting any quick bursts of information, we now feel bored, and our minds increasingly have to fight chemical urges to mess with Blackberries and iPhones. Uh oh…

Here are some eye-opening stats, courtesy of the Times:

– In 2008, people consumed three times as much information each day as they did in 1960

– Computer users at work change windows or check e-mail 37 times an hour (“37 times an hour!”)

– Even at home, people consume 12 hours of media a day on average (one hour spent simultaneously watching TV and surfing the internet counts as two hours)

Just think about your daily routine a little bit. We all do it. You’re standing in line at the grocery store. It is a 4-5 minute line, tops. It has become almost instinctive to pull out your iPhone and check your e-mail, even though you just did that 20 minutes ago. Then you open up your news app and you read a dozen quick, one-sentence headlines, while your brain jumps from topic to topic. If there is an old lady at the checkout line who is paying with pennies or clipping out coupons for cat food, you MIGHT have time to dive into one of these articles, but even if you do, it is very likely that you will have to stop right in the middle of it.

Doesn’t all of this technology and all of these bursts of information allow us to get more done? Not according to the scientists who are studying our brains. “While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information and they experience more stress.” What may be even more alarming is that scientists have also found that even after you are done multitasking, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.

“So, what the f%$! does this have to do with the LSAT”, you ask? One thing nobody will dispute is that the LSAT requires a lot of concentrated focus, as well as the ability to “shut out irrelevant information”. Many of our instructors have noted that an increasing number of students complain about not being able to get through entire reading comp sections quick enough, or they begin reading a dense Logical Reading stimulus and immediately want to jam a pen in their eye. These students aren’t inbred middle-school dropouts who “just can’t read good”. In fact, most of them attend top undergraduate universities and are fairly high-functioning (Monday through Thursday, at least). This may be an example of why there has been an increased use of “smart drugs” by college students across the country. Blueprint founder Trent Teti actually wrote a blog post last year about this trend.

The New York Times article raises the possibility that while this constant access to technology helps us do a lot of things better and faster (like find a movie listing, or send an e-mail on the road), it may also hinder our ability to do other things (like studying for the LSAT, or concentrating on one task for an extended period of time). Listen, while I’m certainly not giving up my iPhone or my Facebook account anytime soon, I still think that this New York Times article is worth putting some thought into. That is…if I can get through the entire thing without checking my e-mail.