How the Internet is Changing Our Brains

“The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it,” claimed Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet is Going to Our Brain. His work was highly skeptical of the effect of internet access on human society, making it a provocative and highly controversial read.

The tech boom has brought with it a lot of negativity and paranoia regarding the devices that have been invented. Paranoia might be too degrading of a word; a lot of the security risks that people bring up regarding the Internet of Things and the easily carried out identify thefts that now are all commonplace are totally valid.

That said, there must be a way to use the internet for the purpose of furthering humankind. Perhaps the only way of finding that ideal method is by better understanding exactly how the internet affects us so that we can optimize that effect to the best of our abilities. Unfortunately there isn’t a huge amount of data out there regarding long-term trends since the internet was recently invented. But here’s what scientists have found:

brainThe Internet is capable of interacting with your brain similarly to the way that drugs interact with your brain. That means if you’re someone who tends to have an addictive personality or have struggled with drug and alcohol addiction before, you’re more likely to deal with cravings to be constantly plugged into your computer as well. One 2011 study reported by the Telegraph showed that some people had withdrawal symptoms simply from unplugging from their technology for a single day.

“The majority of people we see with serious Internet addiction are games- people who spend long hours in roles in various games that cause them to disregard their obligations,” explained Dr. Henrietta Bowden Jones, an Imperial College, London psychiatrist who runs a clinic for Internet addicts and problem gamblers.

Her report brings to mind the tragic story of two children two were totally neglected by their gaming-addicted parents, who were eventually charged with child abuse.

The internet is also capable of making people feel more lonely and jealous, which is kind of a no-brainer; it makes it easier to see other people in their most successful moments. Apparently researchers have even gone so far as to name the phenomenon “Facebook depression.”

Access to the internet for those who are vulnerable to depression and suicide will increase their risk of a self-harming incident as well.

brain2Internet use may be associated with increased memory problems as well; the information overload of the internet makes it difficult to file information away where it can be stored effectively.

“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world of emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” Dr. Anthony Wagner said of people trying to split their attention on the internet. Wagner is an associate professor of psychology at Stanford. “That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

However, the internet can boost brain function. Apparently a 2008 study showed that the use of Internet search engines can actually stimulate neural activation patterns and potentially increase brain function for older adults.

Tech Changes Iowa’s Political Landscape

The Iowa caucus has always been about more than casting votes; since becoming the “first in the nation” to vote in the primaries in 1972, the coming of the caucus has always led Iowans to hold assemblies in schools, community centers, and neighborhood homes to discuss the candidates of either party and which presidential hopeful has the most to give to the state.

These events were originally as tech-less as they sound, but this year’s go around is timed with the societal changes that have come along with smartphones and the incessant rise of social media.

twitter iowa caucus“We all have smartphones, and we not only tweet regularly, but we have Instagram and YouTube and video cameras in our pockets,” comments Professor Rachel Paine Caufield, a professor of political science at Drake University in Des Moines. “This will be a caucus that’s documented in a way no previous caucus has been documented.”

The Iowa caucus is different for Republicans and Democrats. For the Republican caucus, Iowans gather in their percents and cast private votes. Those votes are tallied and their numbers determine how many delegates each candidate receives at the party’s nominating convention, which takes place in July.

The Democratic caucus operates differently: When the Iowans assemble in their individual precincts, they publicly declare their support of whichever candidate by dividing themselves into sections within an assembly room. Then they mix again, attempting to convince friends, family and neighbors to join their cause or in turn being convinced to join the causes of other candidates. Apparently this process involves everything from begging to free cookies. If any group ever loses the minimum amount of people to become viable, that group dissolves and its members must then pick a new group with which to align. That’s when the real fun begins.

“It’s a weird parallel universe where stuff that would never fly in any other aspect of politics all of a sudden becomes really normal,” explained Crystal Patterson, a former digital team member of Clinton’s 2008 campaign.

At the end of the assembly, the number of members in each camp are written down and a formula is used to determine how any delegates each candidate will receive.

This year, we can add Twitter to the occasion. Twitter will allow for caucus-goers to understand how their candidate is doing in other districts, which can in turn influence their own home-town support. Statistics have shown that people tend to want to join the majority.

“Our voting calculations in our own heads change depending on which candidates are doing well,” Caufield explained. “We’re going to have a lot more information about that this time around.”

Adam Sharp is Twitter’s head of new, government and elections. He believes that Twitter will help people to understand the entire democratic process better this election, especially that of Iowa:

“The fair weather supporters of the candidates, hoping they neighbors speak for them, will now have more visibility to see and understand how critical their vote is when they are getting those real time reports,” he explained.

bernie sandersTech is also expected to allow for more accurate recording, a much-needed change considering Republican leadership actually declared the wrong victor (Mitt Romney instead of Rick Santorum) in 2012. Microsoft has built a reporting app that they hope will allow for fewer embarrassing mishaps. The app will also flag inconsistencies in the data, such as a strangely large turnout four a district or missing precincts. Microsoft predicts that the biggest challenge will be simply beating the learning curve for the app; the company is used to developing software that can handle huge amounts of information.

The Iowa Democratic party will also be holding a tele-caucus for the first time ever this year.

Campaigns are also developing new technology for caucus counting. Bernie Sanders’ campaign has apparently built an app that allows precinct captains to track how preference groups change over the course of the night, information that will surely prove helpful to presidential hopefuls as primaries continue on through the nation.

“If we did well ind districts where there was a candidate who’d didn’t get viability, and we’re able to peel those people off, we’ll be able to surface that information in real time,” explained Pinky Weitzman, the digital director of Sanders’ Iowa campaign.