What the internet is doing to our brains…

I stumbled upon an old article in The Atlantic written by Nicholas Carr called “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The author points to the fact that various inventions over time have not only changed the way we communicate, they have also altered the way we think. The inventions of writing, the printing press and now the internet and other digital media fundamentally changed humanity’s access to information, but more importantly, they catalyzed changes in the physical wiring of our brains.

One of humanity’s hallmarks is its ability to adapt to a changing environment. Consider this excerpt from the aforementioned article:

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”

So, we’re not as we once were, mentally or physically! Whether or not we’re less intelligent because of these human inventions is debatable, though it does seem clear that the further we go in this process and the more integrated these technologies are in our lives, the less willing we are to question their effect on our minds. As Carr noted: “Never has a communications system played so many roles in our lives—or exerted such broad influence over our thoughts—as the Internet does today. Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.”

Technological advances are seen, broadly speaking, as a sign of progress for the body of humanity. It’s hard to argue with such a perspective, as leisure time, productivity and output have all registered impressive gains over the last century. But what of happiness? If happiness is not an important measure of human progress, I stand corrected. But if so, then how is the internet doing?

A recent clinical study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics referenced the work of several researchers who are proposing a new phenomenon called “Facebook Depression,” which is defined as “depression that develops when preteens and teens spend a great deal of time on social media sites, such as Facebook, and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.” Perhaps this is just a symptom of the early adopters not yet having established the new balance relative to this new mode of communication or maybe it is a sign of things to come.

Is Google making us stupid?

Time will tell.


4 thoughts on “What the internet is doing to our brains…

  1. Colin

    I would say that the Internet has altered the way that I think. There are two examples that come to mind. The first is that many people (myself included) have a breadth of knowledge, but in many cases without a depth of knowledge in any of those areas. The othe example is the loss of precision in writing. With the ease of the backspace key, people have been trained to out-write their clarity of thought. Just because the brain comes up with something doesn’t mean that it’s worthy of being written down. I am going to spend more thinking about what I write before my fingers hit the keys. Hopefully both my style and substance will improve!


  2. Isabelle

    I was reading a book the other day and came across this quote, which I had to save using my iPhone 4G, Evernote app b/c I knew I’d want to remember it – probably because my brain doesn’t work as well as it used to due to my reliance on technology 🙂 Anyway, the quote went: “Technology is a knack of so arranging the world that we don’t have to experience it.” – Max Frisch

    I think that much of intelligence comes from experience and if the majority of time is spent interfacing with a computer, it seems rather one dimensional. Although I don’t think Google is making us stupid, I think the weight that has been placed on the “online world” could lead to an atrophy of value and experience with what really matters.


  3. jmj

    I don’t think teens are the only ones in peril. I realized a few years ago that even as though I had deliberately curbed tv time, “the google” was now dominating my descresionary time. I did the same thing I did with tv, I planned how much time I’d give it and prioritize the sites I thought were advantageous to me, just as I do with books. Most of tv, books and the Internet sites are either not interesting to me or garbage I wouldn’t bother with. I gave the social media a try and realized I like real friends. The news sites are as tawdry as most magazines…etc
    I read 3 blogs a day. They are ones that enrich my mind, stimulate my creativity and nuture my interests. Thanks for yours, it is one of the best for consistently interesting content. Like the great newspaper columnists of it’s heyday some bloggers will rise to the top of the heap. Love freshly pressed for that! The rest will sink like the continual blather of texting teens.
    Keep on, yours is a gem!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s