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How Does The Internet Affect Our Brain?

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    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 26, 2012
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      By Cara Santa Maria
      Huffington Post
      April 25, 2012


      Original Link

      Is the internet bad for our brains? Is it affecting our ability to
      remember things, form meaningful relationships, or make decisions? How
      is it beneficial? Isn't having so much information at our fingertips a
      good thing?

      I think it's important to remember that in science, answers to questions
      like these are rarely straightforward. Without a doubt the time we spend
      online changes our brains, but then again, so does everything we do. Our
      brains are highly plastic, meaning that external experience shapes our
      neural structure and function. But exactly how the Internet induces
      those changes is still something of a mystery.

      Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our
      Brains, is attempting to shed light in this very new area of research. I
      spoke with him to learn more...


      *CARA SANTA MARIA:*Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. How are we
      affected by what Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google calls
      "the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn't
      understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had?"
      Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, has dedicated years of his life
      to understanding the complex relationship between the human brain and
      the Internet.

      *NICHOLAS CARR:*I mean, more than any, I think, individual technology or
      medium ever, we spend more time interacting with the Internet and doing
      more things; more intellectual things, more personal things and so
      forth. And I think what we know about the brain is that it's very
      efficient in adapting to the way we use it. When we come to use a tool
      like the Internet for so many things, our brains adapt.

      *CSM:*The environment shapes who we are and how we think. There's an
      ever-developing feedback mechanism, a rich and complex dance between our
      external world and our internal thoughts. And this isn't some ineffable
      partnership. All of our experiences -- even using the Internet --
      physically change the structure and function of our brains. And this is
      most apparent during sensitive periods of development.

      *NC:*I think one of the most important elements of brain development is
      to make sure a child, through the first 20 years of their lives, of
      their life, has a lot of different kinds of experiences, different kind
      of stimuli. My concern now as we push computer devices, network devices,
      to kids at ever younger ages (and we see this with cell phones and
      smartphones and ipads and ipod touches) we're stealing away some of that
      diversity of experience.

      *CSM:*I'm not sure I'm convinced. Doesn't our modern Google culture,
      along with gaming and social media, increase our diversity of
      experience? Well, Nicholas argues that depth of thought -- critical,
      conceptual, even creative thinking -- is not a passive process.
      Information doesn't just flow in and stick. It takes time for new ideas
      to connect with old ideas, for a rich web of associations grow.

      *NC:*If your brain is constantly distracted and constantly taking in new
      information, it can never hold any existing piece of information in its
      working memory. Because the capacity is so small, in order to make room
      for something new coming at you, you have to get rid of something else
      that's in there. The experiences that we get on the Internet are
      certainly compelling and a lot of us become almost compulsive in our
      need to check screens, but what it does is through this process of
      cognitive overload, of literally overloading our working memory, is it
      prevents us from weaving together information into knowledge. So we
      become just, you know, kind of pecking away at little bits of
      information without ever getting the big picture.

      *CSM:*And apparently, that constant checking of the screens is
      reinforced by the little rush of dopamine we get every time there's a
      new bit of information available. It gives us a fix. In essence,
      checking Facebook, Twitter, whatever really is like crack to us.

      *NC:*The more stimulated you are by things coming through your screen,
      the less able you are to distinguish important information from trivial
      information. What becomes important when you're constantly multitasking,
      constantly all following these streams of information, what becomes
      important simply is that information is new. And you don't care whether
      its important or trivial you just want to get the newest thing.

      *CSM:*What do you think? Can we still be critical thinkers or make good
      decisions if we can't even separate important information from
      extraneous "noise?" How is the internet affecting your brain? You do
      realize that you're under the influence right now, right? Get your fix
      by reaching out to me on Twitter, Facebook, orleaving a comment right
      here on The Huffington Post


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