The internet is rewiring our brains.
Garry Small conducted some tests with experienced web surfers and novices on their brain activity. He scanned their brains while they were surfing the net. The experienced internet users there was much more brain activity in the prefrontal cortex. Having had the novice surfers spend an hour a day surfing for five days he rescanned them and found that they had changed to having similar brain activity as the experiences web-surfers. “Five hours on the Internet and the naive subjects had already rewired their brains.” This sounds pretty scary, does it matter?
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Effect on attention span.
Those who rely too much on the Internet lose the ability to focus on one task. Intsead, they will multi-task, lose interest quickly, look for summaries of information, only search for short bursts of time and won't look at the same piece of information twice. This affects quality of thinking, as people can easily find specific facts in a short space of time, but can't look in-depth and know their subject thoroughly.
'Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle. ' (Nicholas Carr - http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/6868/)
The Intermet also allows one to look in much more detail on a subject if necessary, as such a large amount of information is available. Large bodies of text, even electronic copies of books, are available. There must be another factor in why we have chosen the shorter, more concise information rather than the more in-depth information.
Even if the changes Nicolas Carr details are real or widespread we don’t know whether they’ll be negative. It is highly likely that the loss of one skill will be replaced by the gain of another, a skill it seems highly likely future generations will need.
Besides, if information is constantly available we wont need to retain it in our heads, we’ll just need to know how to use Google.
Effect on mood.
Because the Internet is a fast-paced environment where people expect everything instantly, it can cause stress. There is not enough opportunity to ponder a particular thought, so people don't stop and ruminate. The brain is forced to work faster than it is comfortable with, people are confused by too much information and too frequent updates. There is also no opportunity for real solitude, of which a small amount is necessary for relaxation, as we are always connected to millions of other people in at least one way. Because we rely so much on an Internet connection that is still very often slow or cutting out at times, we can't function when it breaks down.
Many aspects of the Internet make life less stressful - such as the ability to save information for later browsing that we might be worried about losing, the ability to access friends easily when we do need to talk to someone, the ability to escape into another world when the outside world is unbearable.
Effect on social skills.
Face-to-face social skills, such as eye contact, are affected by reliance on the Internet, as we are so much more used to communicating online.
'Among the young people he calls digital natives (a term first coined by the US writer and educationalist Marc Prensky), he has repeatedly seen a lack of human contact skills – "maintaining eye contact, or noticing non-verbal cues in a conversation". When he can, he does his best somehow to retrain them: "When I go to colleges and talk to students, I have them do one of our face-to-face human contact exercises: 'Turn to someone next to you, preferably someone you don't know, turn off your mobile device.' One person talks and the other one listens, and maintains eye contact. '
('How the Internet is Altering your Mind' http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/20/internet-altering-your-mind describing Dr. Gary Small's experiment.)
Nobody communicates solely on the Internet, we have plenty of opportunity to communicate with people face to face. The fact that online communication still suffers from the problem that we constantly mistunderstand each other because we can't see the subtle nuances of tone, facial expression etc. that tell us whether someone is serious or sarcastic, happy or unhappy with a decision, truthful or lying shows that we still rely on face-to-face communication and can't replace it with online communication.
Can affect creativity.
Because people have access to so many facts, we don't need to think creatively as much. We don't need to learn from mistakes or go through the entire process of doing something because we can just obtain the answers instantly. We don't need to wonder about things we know nothing about and come up with our own imaginative versions of them, because we can just find out about them.
The Internet can't tell us the answers to life's ultimate questions that inspire human imagination the most, such as the reason why the Universe exists, whether there is a God, life beyond death etc.
It also can't give us first hand experiences of anything we find out about. Even if I have an online friend in Japan who gives me up-to-date information about what it is like to live there, it is not the same for me as going to Japan myself and so I will imagine being there myself.
The Internet is a good resource for the more practical side of creativity, such as sharing ideas and getting literature published.
argument focuses on only some facets of Internet use, mostly Google
Using Google for research is only one of many uses of the Internet. Many uses have the opposite effect on our brains. For instance, online games encourage users to focus on very tiny details for hours in order to perfect them.
'Carr's argument privileges activities of the skimming and browsing kind. But if you look at research on kids doing online gaming, or exploring virtual worlds such as Second Life, the argument there is about immersion and engagement – and it's even about excessive forms of immersion and engagement that get labelled as addiction.' (Andrew Burn, http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/20/internet-altering-your-mind)
nothing different to any other stage of technology
There is always a scare with any ground-breaking new technology that it will affect our way of thinking. Once the technology is accepted – especially once there is a new technology beyond that – it becomes the norm. The clock has had a radical effect on our way of thinking – it causes us to structure our days according to an artificial unit of measurement rather than to trust our instincts on when we are hungry or tired. We follow the calendar instead of the physical changes of the seasons. Artificial light means we don't have to rest when it is dark due to being unable to see well enough to work. However, very few people want to do without these things.
the new way of doing things can be more useful
When writing academic texts, being able to quickly pick out individual facts from the bulk of a large text is very useful, especially in the middle of an exam. To be able to write concisely is important when writing an essay with a word limit, or just because overly long and abstruse text isn't actually very good writing. The advantages to workplace efficiency have already been discussed in the article 'How the Internet is Altering your Mind'. 9http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/20/internet-altering-your-mind) While it was written negatively, the work ethic of combining fast production with good quality results could be combined with humane management.
effect isn't permanent
If our brains really are malleable and can be rewired by the Internet, they can be rewired to any other aspect of our experiences. If the Internet went down, we would adjust very quickly, just as we adjusted very quickly to having the Internet.
What do you think?