Heard at the 120th Up Conference on the impact of smartphone use on our brain and memory.

Background. 93% of the French population owns a mobile phone. An exponential number of sites, services and applications give us access to, suggest to us, and even bombard us with important, futile, interesting, stupid, playful, professional, true or false content from all over the world, all the time, right up to our bedside table, which is the last ultra-protected place before our night-time privacy. (By the way, the speakers agree that surfing on a screen before going to sleep is very disturbing for the brain, it interferes with the onset of sleep) Technology constantly stimulates our brain because it is available, at hand, operational, at all times. According to statistics, we consult our smartphone on average 221 times a day.

In this reality, Francis Eustache, a researcher in neuropsychology at Inserm, shares an interesting observation:

The smartphone tends to occupy the least amount of time in our daily lives. Surfing on your phone to avoid boredom in transport, on the street, in a bar, even while walking, could, in the long run, modify a necessary state of our brain.

Twenty years ago, French and American researchers made a fortuitous discovery using brain imaging. While trying to formalise a reference measurement of the brain at rest, without any particular activity, without stimulation, they discovered that, in this situation, a specific area was activated. By dint of study, they came to understand that this “default mode” has two characteristics:

1/ The ability to monitor the environment in a diffuse way. The sentinel function.

2/ It is a time of travel in the inner world. The brain then turns to its own thoughts, going back and forth between past and future, using memory.

In neuropsychiatric illnesses, this area is very often altered. This tends to prove that the “default mode” is a natural cerebral activity that is essential to the functioning of the brain. As a good researcher, Francis Eustache reminds us that today, we do not know but we sense. By clinging too much to your smartphone whenever you are inactive, you run the risk of disrupting this cognitive activity. Boredom is a recurrent opportunity to let personal emotions emerge, to free our imagination, to let our deep internal thoughts express themselves and above all to stimulate our memory since this inner wandering takes us between past and future.

So take the time to be bored, to unplug, to wander around with your senses awake, open to the world and carried by a beneficial inner reverie. We often talk about killing boredom, but we shouldn’t exterminate it!