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People stop thinking about whether they know something themselves

Eighth “enter the future” event: “Fresh in the head – How we free ourselves from digital sensory overload”


Around 600 guests at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim or taking part via a live stream witnessed the eighth event in the Wittenstein Foundation’s “enter the future” series on Wednesday, April 17. The speaker, Professor Martin Korte, showed how the digital sensory overload to which we are exposed every day affects our “Stone Age brain” as well as human thinking and behavior. He also provided answers to the question of how people’s use of digital technologies – both private and business – should be adapted so that they become more focused, more productive and more creative again.

The jungle of neuronal associations set the figurative stage for the speaker, Professor Martin Korte, Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at TU Braunschweig and author of numerous books, who took the audience at the Wittenstein Foundation event on an exciting journey through the trials and tribulations of self-made digital madness. He began his talk with a vivid illustration of the information overload we are forced to deal with today compared to the past: “A farmer in the Middle Ages received as much information in his entire life as we do in a single day”. With only limited resources, the human brain consequently has no choice but to selectively restrict itself to information that could be of importance in the future. This selection process alone can massively overload the working memory if there is too much information per unit of time, which is why, according to Korte, the myth of multitasking needs to be dispelled: “If we do a lot of things all at once, the brain doesn’t know what it’s supposed to focus on. It’s likely to get caught up in side issues and be unable to distinguish them from the primary focus. This flashing back and forth between tasks lowers productivity by 40% and we end up taking almost twice as long to do everything.” So is multitasking merely an illusion of productivity?

Don’t deprive children of the real world too soon

The fact that there is already a medical term for the fear of being unreachable by mobile phone for social and business contacts underlines the importance of protecting yourself against nomophobia at an early stage. Korte claims that carving out islands of time for yourself – whether in your professional or your private life – in which you can concentrate on your work without being surrounded by digital devices is imperative, not only to help the tired nerve cells in the frontal lobe recover but also to strengthen your own resilience, which is located in the same area of the brain. Particularly in early childhood education, he strongly advises against the use of any digital media whatsoever. Even a few hours a day on a smartphone or tablet can lead to a significant reduction in vocabulary in three to eight-year-olds by the time they start school. Since speech is not only learned by listening but also by observing mouth movements and facial expressions, it is also extremely harmful for children only to see their parents hiding behind a digital device for a large part of the time. The neurobiologist refrained from positioning himself against the use of digital media per se. He nevertheless called for them to be used smartly – that is, starting at the right age and including regular breaks and media switching – adding that, of course, nothing can replace three-dimensional perception, in other words playing, scuffling, climbing and romping around.

Information is useless without education

Whereas “digital immigrants” grew up in an analog environment and had to learn how to use digital technologies as adults, “digital natives” have become socialized with digital devices and electronic media since their earliest childhood days. Korte believes this has a particular influence on the creation and application of knowledge. Someone who is not accustomed to generating and storing knowledge of their own and only ever relies on the results of search engines will be unable to cope with the daily flood of information. Instead of first of all searching for answers to questions “at the back of their minds”, most people prefer to resort to a digital search engine from the outset – a big mistake, in Korte’s opinion: “The more we know, the more differentiated our perception of the world. It’s more important than ever nowadays to possess stored knowledge of your own in order to correctly evaluate and correlate the barrage of information and search engine results. Education only comes about through a combination of knowledge and information.”

This view was also shared by host Dr. Manfred Wittenstein, initiator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wittenstein Foundation, who wound up with a plea for new technologies to be used in such a way that they support people and make their lives easier rather than being a cause of stress, mental burden or serious harm.

Next on the Wittenstein Foundation’s agenda

In fall 2023, the Wittenstein Foundation launched another event series called “shifts in perspective” alongside “enter the future”: the second event in this series will be taking place very soon. Starting at 7 pm on Thursday, June 13 physicist and magician Thomas Fraps will be a guest at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim with his show entitled “When your brain plays tricks on you – why knowledge is no guarantee against deception”. Especially in times of digital sensory overload, the human brain often finds it difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. Fraps will take advantage of this simple truth to playfully and humorously turn the laws of nature upside down before the audience’s very eyes. Along the way, they will learn how fraudsters, counterfeiters and impostors are able to deceive even experts and why knowledge is not necessarily any guarantee against deception.


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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

From left to right: Dr. Manfred Wittenstein (initiator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wittenstein Foundation), Professor Martin Korte (Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at TU Braunschweig) and moderator Benedikt Hofmann (Editor-in-Chief of MM MaschinenMarkt).

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

Professor Martin Korte is Professor of Cellular Neurobiology at TU Braunschweig and author of numerous books.

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

Both the live audience and those taking part via a live stream had an opportunity to put questions to the speakers.

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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda

Professor Martin Korte was available for questions and a signing after the event.

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