( Originally posted in Cloud 961 Magazine in June 2015)
Let’s stop for a moment, and take a break! Let’s get away from our emails, news feeds, and tweets! After all it’s a whole lot of information from here and there; it’s no wonder we’re overwhelmed, distracted and not focused anywhere. So what is the internet doing to our minds?
The Internet… as a Mere Distraction
Opinions are many and they differ; some like Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows, how the internet is changing the way we think, read, and remember”, believe that we’re living in a perpetual state of distraction where too much media exposure hinders our ability to focus. He argues that focused calm thinking is at the heart of the learning process. It enables us to transfer data from our short term memory to our long term memory in a process called “memory consolidation”.
The internet, as he says interrupts memory consolidation; hence, we do not build or assimilate knowledge, nor do we form connections between previous and new knowledge. In a way, it hinders our ability to synthesize, and create. Our attention span is shorter; our reading is superficial. We are also less likely to recall information, and more likely to become physically addicted to it.
Moreover, the constant switching between a distracted state and the focused state would tire the Insula, the part of the brain responsible for switching between the two modes. As a result we feel weary and dizzy.
All this is true, but to simply infer that the internet makes us dumb is an oversimplification; neuroscientists have shown that the brain has the ability to alter Itself.
The Internet … as a Mind Shaper
Contrary to what Nicholas Carr preaches, not all the nets’ effects are harmful; at least we’ve become better at finding the information we need; we’ve become highly skilled at remembering where to find things; and we’re getting better at sorting out the relevant information from the irrelevant one.
The era has also witnessed the “Flynn effect”, a bewildering increase in IQ attributed to psychologist James Flynn. According to him, it’s not that we’re more intelligent, it’s just that our generation thinks different. In agreement with Carr, yes the internet makes it harder for us to concentrate. Yes we are becoming more machine like; however, it does not make us shallower, or dumber.
Furthermore, we can address our concentration or creativity problem by taming our multitasking habits, and partitioning our day into single tasks of 30 to 50 min each. Taking breaks, naps, listening to music or simply zoning out for 10 min can re-energize us. Hence we would have benefited the most from our internet rich environment while evading the negative consequences .
Also published on Medium.