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:: Saturday, June 02, 2007 ::
Since going back to pharmacy school after a 7 year break from science courses, it's been painfully apparent that my mental capacity has decreased. Everything is mostly intact, but studying for exams pushes the mind to its limits, and when those limits receded even a bit, it's noticeable.
This perceived change in mental capacity is either real, imagined, or a bit of both.
The case for real loss: Before the time when telephones could store more telephone numbers than I knew people... before the time when PDAs could remind me of every appointment and to-do item from a year ago to a year ahead, old grocery shopping lists, and email addresses of people I assume I met online years ago but can't be sure because we only exchanged a few emails... before the ago of personal electronics, I could recall at least 40 telephone numbers from memory, about 20 addresses, and remember everywhere I needed to go that day without having to repeatedly glance at an appointment calendar.
Oh, and the spell-checkers. Don't get me wrong -- I love the spell-checker in Word and Outlook, but technology giveth and technology taketh away: When writing with old-school pen-and-paper or using software without a spell-checker like my weblog, I find my self copying and pasting a word into Word so I can run a quick "F7" spell-check. Auto-correct is another great innovation within the past few years. Thanks to auto-correct, I've let my typing dexterity and vowel order ("i" before "e" except after "c") get sloppy because, hey, auto-correct will fix it.
The case for imagined loss: Pharmacy school was much more difficult than undergrad, so what I perceive as a mental loss may be the difficulty differential. Undergrad was also a long time ago -- 10 years since graduation -- and time has no doubt softened the exam stress and frustration with my limitations that I felt way back when.
And finally, there's the information flood, which makes us all highly distractable and shortens our attention spans. Our propensity to quickly lose interest in one current event in favor of the next newsflash is what saves politicians like the President from being impeached. As for my own mental function, not being able to focus on a task for more than 3 minutes takes a toll on learning. What's worse, I know this, but I allow myself to be distracted; it's my own dumb fault. Here in a few minutes, I plan to read a book for a couple of uninterrupted hours, a rare luxury; used to be, I could spend a whole day reading.
What I don't know is, whether or not the inability to focus and retain knowledge due to distractions is a true loss? Can years of this change the brain? The brain is renowned for its plasticity, so I should think so. Experts tell us kids who grow up in this information flood are developing the ability to learn and retain in spite of the distractions. It seems being exposed to an information overload in their early, formative years hardwires their brains with the ability to cope. The brain in anyone older than 10 years doesn't hardwire so easily.
All my worrying about it aside, because it won't help, here are some online games I've found that help keep preserve or improve mental skills, as judged by me. The games listed develop one or more mental skills that are important to me in my career: analytical, problem-solving, creativity, multi-tasking, visual, and memory.
Boomshine - analytical, visual