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What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains

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The Internet Is Our External Hard Drive

Nicholas Carr | What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

We don’t have to remember phone numbers or addresses anymore. Instead, we can just hop on our email or Google to look it up. According to a study by Science Magazine, “the Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves,” and our brains have become reliant on the availability of information.

Big Ways The Internet Is Changing Our Brain

Noted science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov predicted that one day, we’d “have computer outlets in every home, each of them hooked up to enormous libraries where anyone can ask any question and be given answers, be given reference materials, be something you’re interested in knowing, from an early age, however silly it might seem to someone else,” and with this appliance, be able to truly enjoy learning instead of being forced to learn mundane facts and figures. His insight has proven to be amazingly accurate, as we now live in a world with the Internet, where nearly the entire wealth of human knowledge can live at our fingertips or even in our pockets, from being able to summon email from our smart phones to earning entire degrees from accredited online colleges. We can also earn these degrees in a variety of options including associate degrees, bachelor degrees, master’s degrees, and even PHDs- all online. Such an amazing feat, of course, doesn’t happen without impacting our lives, and scientists have begun to note that the Internet has not only served to fulfill our brains’ curiosities, but also rewired them. So what exactly is the Internet doing to our brains? Read on to find out.

Nicholas Carr On What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains

by Jerry Brito on June 7, 2010·

Nicholas Carr, bestselling author who writes on the social, economic, and business implications of technology, discusses his new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Carr posits that the internet is changing not only they way we consume information but also the biological and neurological workings of our brains. He addresses the internets effect on attention span and the ability to think deeply, neuroplasticity, multitasking, reading books v. snippets, Google, commonplaces, and much more.

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Online Thinking Persists Even Offline

When you’re online, you’re frequently attacked by bursts of information, which is highly stimulating and even overwhelming. Too much, and you can become extremely distracted and unfocused. Even after you log off , your brain remains rewired. A lack of focus and fractured thinking can persist, interrupting work, family, and offline time.

How Does The Internet Gain And Sustain Our Attention

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains ...

The Internet consumes a considerable chunk of our attention on a daytoday basis. The vast majority of adults go online daily, and over a quarter report being online almost constantly2. Within this, one in five American adults are now smartphoneonly Internet users1. Importantly, the introduction of these Internetenabled mobile devices has also reduced the digital divide previously experienced by lower and middle income countries15. The amount and frequency of Internet usage is even more pronounced amongst younger people. Most adults today witnessed the beginning of the transition from Internetfree to Interneteverywhere societies. However, younger generations have been brought up entirely within a connected world, particularly in developed countries. Consequently, digital natives are often the first to adopt new online technologies as they arise16, and engage extensively with all existing features of the Internet. For instance, 95% of US teens have access to a smartphone, and 45% are online almost constantly3.

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How The Internet May Be Changing The Brain

NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University
An international team of researchers has found the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions.

An international team of researchers from Western Sydney University, Harvard University, Kings College, Oxford University and University of Manchester have found the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions.

In a first of its kind review, published in World Psychiatry — the world’s leading psychiatric research journal, the researchers investigated leading hypotheses on how the Internet may alter cognitive processes, and further examined the extent to which these hypotheses were supported by recent findings from psychologi¬cal, psychiatric and neuroimaging research.

The extensive report, led by Dr Joseph Firth, Senior Research Fellow at NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University and Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Manchester, combined the evidence to produce revised models on how the Internet could affect the brain’s structure, function and cognitive development.

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How Does The Internet Affect Brain Function

  • Limit the time you spend on the internet. During your working and non-working hours, schedule specific times to use the internet
  • Set aside a certain time of the day when you check your email inbox. After work, schedule your internet time at home so that you can spend more time with your family and friends. While I was in the habit of having my email open throughout the time I was in the office, Ive learned to only check it at scheduled times of the day so that I can focus on other things that also need my attention.
  • Make sure your use of the internet isnt taking time away from your family. Perhaps time youre spending scrolling through websites, social media and email could be better spent in other healthy endeavors, such as physical activity, socializing or reading a book. These are all activities that are important for your brain health.

Rawan Tarawneh is a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

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The Internet And Transactive Memory

In response to the question How has the Internet changed your life?, some common answers include finding new friends, renewing old friendships, studying online, finding romantic relationships, furthering career opportunities, shopping, and travel38. However, the most common answer is people stating that the Internet has changed the way in which they access information38. Indeed, for the first time in human history, the majority of people living in the developed world have access to almost all factual information in existence literally at their fingertips.

Along with the obvious advantages, this unique situation also introduces the possibility of the Internet ultimately negating or replacing the need for certain human memory systems particularly for aspects of semantic memory which are somewhat independent from other types of memory in the human brain39. An initial indication of Internet information gathering affecting typical memory processes was provided by Sparrow et al40, who demonstrated that the ability to access information online caused people to become more likely to remember where these facts could be retrieved rather than the facts themselves, indicating that people quickly become reliant on the Internet for information retrieval.

What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains

What the Internet is doing to Our Brains

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We’re Becoming Physically Addicted To Technology

Even after unplugging, many Internet users feel a craving for the stimulation received from gadgets. The culprit is dopamine, which is delivered as a response to the stimulation âwithout it, you feel bored. The wife of a heavy technology user notes that her husband is “crotchety until he gets his fix.” After spending time online, your brain wants to get back on for more, making it difficult to concentrate on other tasks and “unplug.” Individuals can learn how to create captivating web sites by earning online web design degrees.

Children Are Learning Differently

Remember all of the history lessons that required you to remember dates, names, and finite details? Kids don’t do that nearly as much as they used to. With online libraries, “rote memorization is no longer a necessary part of education” according to Read Write Web. Educators are beginning to understand that information is now coming at us through a fire hose, quicker and faster than we can digest it, and memorizing facts wastes valuable brain power that could be used to keep up with more important information that can’t be quickly Googled. Individuals can further explore the way technology impacts the way students learn through traditional or online masters degrees in education.

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Is Google Making Usupid By Nicholas Carr Summary

Over the century innovation has changed humans critical thinking. From the manual type writer to the computer the utilization of the technology, is part of our everyday activity. In the article Is Google Making Us Stupid by Nicholas Carr, Carr tried to express his concern, how the internet changing our lives and the thinking ability and the way our brain processes the information differently than it used to in the past. Carr explain how we dont think and depend on quick searches, rather than taking our time to do critical thinking and researches. He tells us how our brain is malleable, and it is changing every day.

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Tomorrow’s Teaching And Learning

Summary of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our ...

My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it,” he wrote, “in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.


The posting below looks at the impact of internet multitasking on our brains and our way of thinking. It is a review by Robin Tatu, senior editor of Prism, of the book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

. The review is from Prism, December, 2010. Copyright 2010

American Society for Engineering Education

1818 N Street, N.W., Suite 600

Washington, DC 20036-2479

Telephone: 331-3500. Reprinted with permission.


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What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Serious thought gives way to skimming and multitasking

If, while perusing the articles of this month’s Prism, you’ve paused to check your e-mail, read online news, blog, tweet, connect on Facebook, catch a YouTube video, buy on Amazon, or perform one of any number of other Web activities that now permeate our lives, then author Nicholas Carr has a message for you: It’s time to consider how our constant, often disjointed engagement with the World Wide Web is changing us – both individually and as a society.

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We Hardly Ever Give Tasks Our Full Attention

Have you ever updated your Facebook while listening to music and texting a friend? If so, you’ve experienced the phenomenon of continuous partial attention and its impact on your brain. It remains to be seen if partial attention is a distraction as most believe, or an adaptation of the brain to the constant flow of stimuli.

Cognitive Consequences Of The Attentiongrabbing Internet

The unprecedented potential of the Internet to capture our attention presents an urgent need for understanding the impact that this may have on our thought processes and wellbeing. Already, education providers are beginning to perceive detrimental effects of the Internet on children’s attention, with over 85% of teachers endorsing the statement that today’s digital technologies are creating an easily distracted generation22. The primary hypothesis on how the Internet affects our attentional capacities is through hyperlinks, notifications, and prompts providing a limitless stream of different forms of digital media, thus encouraging us to interact with multiple inputs simultaneously, but only on a shallow level, in a behavioural pattern termed media multitasking23, 24.

The growing concern around the increasing amount of media multitasking with the spread of ubiquitous Internet access has resulted in further empirical studies. These have produced conflicting findings, with some failing to find any adverse effects on attention27, and others indicating that media multitasking may even be linked to increased performance for other aspects of cognition, such as multisensory integration28. Nonetheless the literature, on balance, does seem to indicate that those who engage in frequent and extensive media multitasking in their daytoday lives perform worse in various cognitive tasks than those who do not, particularly for sustained attention25.

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Some Researchers Claim That The Internet Is Depriving Us Of Talents Like Patience And Contemplation While Others Argue It Has Made Us More Supple In Our Quest For Knowledge But Both Groups Agree That This Phenomenon Is Altering The Very Structure Of Our Brains

Like nearly all the Guardians content, what you are about to read was – and this will hardly be a revelation – written using a computer connected to the internet. Obviously, this had no end of benefits, mostly pertaining to the relative ease of my research and the simplicity of contacting the people whose thoughts and opinions you are about to read. Modern communications technology is now so familiar as to seem utterly banal, but set against my clear memories of a time before it arrived, there is still something magical about, say, optimistically sending an email to a scientist in southern California, and then talking to him within an hour.

But then there is the downside. The tool I use to write not only serves as my word processor and digital postbox, but can also double as – among other things – a radio, TV, news-wire portal and shop. Thus, as I put together the following 2,000-ish words, I was entertained in my more idle moments by no end of distractions. I watched YouTube videos of Manic Street Preachers, Yoko Ono, and the Labour leadership candidates. Via Amazon, I bought a GBP4.99 teach-yourself-to-spell DVD-Rom for my son, which turned out to be rubbish. And at downright stupid hours of the day – 6am, or almost midnight – I once again checked my email on either my phone or computer. Naturally, my inbox was usually either exactly how I had left it, or newly joined by something that could easily have waited – though for some reason, this never seems to register.

What Is The Internet Doing To Our Brains

What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

The debate about the future of book publishing is largely focused on two questions: First, how will books be sold ? And, second, how will the content be delivered ? Both of these issues are, of course, being driven by the new realities made possible via the Internet.

But I think something even more profound is happening. While the Internet is shaping how we read, it is also shaping how we think.

In a recent issue of Atlantic Monthly , Nicholas Carr asks, He then goes on to describe what the Internet is doing to our brains. This is a must-read for anyone in the book publishing industry.

He says,

Over the past few years Ive had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isnt goingso far as I can tellbut its changing. Im not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when Im reading. 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 Id spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. Thats 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 Im always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

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How Does The Online Environment Affect Our Fundamental Social Structures

To investigate the neuroimaging correlates of offline and online networks, the seminal study by Kanai et al74 collected realworld social network size, online sociality and magnetic resonance imaging scans from 125 participants. Results showed that both realworld social network size and number of Facebook friends were significantly associated with amygdala volume. As this has previously been established as a key brain region for social cognition and social network size76, these results present a strong case for the overlap between online and offline sociality in the human brain.

However, those authors also found that the grey matter volume of other brain regions were predicted by the numbers of participants Facebook friends, but held no relationship to their realworld social networks. This suggests that certain unique aspects of social media implicate aspects of the brain that are not central in realworld social settings. For instance, the tendency for online networks to encourage us towards holding many weak social connections, involving thousands of facetoname pairs, could require high associative memory capacities, which is not typically required in realworld networks 74. As associative memory formation for nameface pairs involves the right entorhinal cortex77, 78, this could explain the exclusive relationship that this region holds with online social network size74.

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