I am reading a very intriguing book called The Shallows by Nicolas Carr. I have been reading it since Sunday and I cannot put it down. When I get home from work, I plop myself down and continue my learning journey about my brain and the effects of prolonged internet use. It has definitely got me thinking about neuroplasticity, the memory, and the distracted nature of the internet.
Nicholas Carr shares much historical and scientific research about the distracted nature of the internet and the effects on our brains. Basically, because our brain changes when we learn something. Synaptic pathways are formed. If we have prolonged exposure to something that stimulates the brain, our brain will create pathways and crave more of that stimulus. Our brain mirrors or mimics what we see and experience. We are a product of our environment.
The internet is very busy with hyperlinks, ads, visual stimulants, and little text. When one reads information on the internet, they read differently than reading from a book in hand. Because of all the excess stimuli, the brain has to problem solve multiple stimuli, decide what to focus on and then be distracted again from clicking on hyperlinks while sifting through other distracting stimuli. We cannot think deeply about what we are learning because our brain is taking on too much information. It is working overtime. Thus working memory cannot hold more than 2 to 4 things at a time. When bombarded with an very active environment, our working memory is overloaded. When this occurs we call is it cognitive overload. Much of what we have read is considered shallow reading and the information gained has fallen through the cracks, down the drain. Thus our memory will not take hold and move to long term memory. We cannot remember what we did for hours and hours. We are driven to distraction.
Because of the neuroplasticity of our brain is ever changing. My brain today, will be different tomorrow,. The neurons are growing dendrite trees and creating synaptic pathways. Thus when we have prolonged internet use, we are training our brains to love and live in distraction. We cannot sit and delve into deeper reading, as we did before or write our thoughts in a coherent ways thanks to our distracted brain. Our brain, once literate and linear has become distracted, like the internet. Our brain is comparable to the activity of the internet. If you go to any meeting, people have their cell phones out constantly. Every second there is a notification from Face Book, Twitter, Instagram, a blog site, text or email. Everybody has been trained by their cell phones to check those notifications. We cannot put them down. We need them and must stay connected at all costs. The information that we gather is irrelevant. Who needs to know what Kim Kardashian is doing today on Twitter? But hey, it is trending. Did you know that former New England Patriot tight end Aaron Hernandez has been found guilty of first degree murder and will go to prison? It is on the tickers of ESPN and blowing up on Face Book. We have to have the latest information, even if it isn't important. Can we decipher what is important from all the garbage? But we must be connected and in the know! We cannot turn it off!
The internet and computers were supposed to make our lives easier with the calender notifications, notes and reminders, but this medium has now become our master. Think about it. I have become addicted to my smart phone. I cannot remember what I do daily. The day goes by so fast and it is a total blur. I look at my cell phone when I wake up, as I get ready for work, during work several times at lunch, during breaks and in meetings, When I get home, I hear the buzz and have to look down. I am on constant alert. Notifications, notifications, notifications. I have to know what is going on Facebook, Twitter and my emails. Texting is so much fun and is easier too. I don't like to talk to people on the phone, except my friends. It is easier to connect that way and become less human and more like...you got it... the internet, my computer and smart phone.
Carr raises lots of red flags that are very serious. Are we becoming, due to our brains plasticity, our computers? Are we becoming the technology that we created? Many questions need to be answered. But... I love technology! I have to pause and ask myself: What has the internet done and is currently doing to my brain?
My brain has changed for sure. I need to seek solitude, connect to the linear and literate part of me. I need to become more human. No wonder my memory has faded. My working memory can only take in so much. I want to get back to my pre-internet self with my books and writing. I think that my use of the internet will change now. I want a healthy brain, a more quiet brain where I have time to ponder and think deeply. This will allow the connections and learning to happen at a greater rate. I will have a sharper mind.
Reading The Shallows has given me pause. For that, I am grateful. It has opened up my eyes. Maybe you too will see the things in a new light. I certainly hadn't given it much thought before. I was too distracted, like our society. The effects on my brain scares me. How long have I lived here and how long will it take to reverse these ill effects? When I was driving home from work today, I turned my cell phone off, but I kept wanting to check at it at stop lights. It seems that I have to always be doing something. I am not okay with silence. My phone is there begging me to engage. I wasn't that way five years ago, not that I can remember. My mind has to always be busy, busy, busy. When will my thoughts and new learnings take hold, if I am always busy? They won't. I seek to find a greater balance. I need to get back to me. It will take time, but it will be worth the effort.