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.

Leave a Reply