The Internet’s Effects On Your Brain, The Matrix Has You:
A lot of the time, when we think of health-hazards, the first thing that comes to mind is something like Saturated Fat or Excess Sugar,
Or if you’re really plugged-in, Diesel Exhaust near big cities and highways.
But that gets into things less-explored because it’s easy to ignore what’s around us.
And just like the stealthy air-pollution from engines that are supposed to save fuel,
Other positive initiatives can end up having negative consequences.
And if a team from Western Sydney is right, The Internet itself might be making us less-healthy. No, the irony is not lost here on HT…
The Toxic Fog Of The Technological Revolution:
So there might be a fog of diesel-fumes around London that’s destroying the brains of its inhabitants,
But there is also a fog of network-connectivity and data that surrounds each of us that may have negative-impacts, too.
While many people blame social-media, with its purposely-addictive qualities, groupthink, and unreasonable standards,
It may not be the only bad influence.
And the short answer from the WSU international team is that the effects of pervasive technological distractions may be hurting the brains of young people and even changing them in ways that are not easy to fix.
Read on to find out more…
It’s Not Just Facebook:
So Facebook is a big part of the problem.
But so is Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Messaging, and even the invention of a frequently-on distraction-device that’s carried with each individual user everywhere.
And it’s only getting worse, because they’re more powerful, cheaper, and better on batteries so they can stay powered-up for long periods,
In the future, our personal digital devices might even be on 24 hours a day.
Though human-history is the story of adaptation, we really don’t have much of a precedent for a situation this serious.
Writing, the Printing-Press, the Telephone, and the Light-Bulb may have been huge game-changers for daily-life, but this is an order-of-magnitude more.
Young Minds Take Time To Grow Properly:
But what the study found was something no teenager, tweenager, or younger will want to hear.
Their brains are just not ready for it.
Because where the results were almost universally-good for Adults,
Those for younger people were worse, and predicted to stay that way.
Excessive, pervasive networked-computing or connectivity of any type was shown to negatively-impact a few areas:
2a) Ability To Focus
2b) Relative Amount Of Effort Required To Focus
3) Cognitive-Skills Like Executive Function
4) Social Abilities
5) Emotional Regulation
A Helicopter-Mom On Angel-Dust. Nag, Nag, Nag!:
And as you might expect, especially for younger people, The Nag’s The Thing.
It’s like the equivalent of having a non-stop helicopter-Mom.
How are you going to get anything done if someone or some thing is always interrupting you?
How are you going to complete even one single thought if that frequency is high enough?
Well, depending on your scenario, if you have a computer and a smartphone with notifications on for everything,
You will probably not get a moment of peace.
-Especially since many networked-applications like social media were designed to be the equivalent of Digital Cocaine.
Once people get hooked on that little dopamine-blip from a DM or a Like, they’re hooked.
The opposite is also true, the absence of them or followers is an instant-rejection comedown.
And as Rick James said, “Cocaine is a helluva drug!”
The PFC And 25, Arrested Development:
But wait, it gets worse.
Because unless you’re over the age of 25, your brain isn’t even finished developing.
And what you do to it up until that point is very important for your future prospects of all types.
What the research team suggests is that if you turn yourself into an ADD/OCD digital-addict before 25,
Then the longer you’ve been that way will dictate how hard it is to change it,
And there could be actual Physical Changes to the structure of the brain that come from early Internet Addiction.
1) Reductions in Grey-Matter in the regions dedicated to concentration
2) Reduced White-Matter
3) Decreased Verbal Intelligence
Those deficits could stymie a young person’s prospects right when they need all their faculties in order to make progress.
Internet Use Effects On Memory; Wait, What Did You Say Again?:
Also worse is Memory.
How is anyone supposed to complete a Thought, or even crystallize a Memory,
If they already have some form of ADD/OCD, they’re being interrupted constantly,
And everything you need to know is just one Google search away.
Well the study suggests that result, too.
Heavy internet-users were shown to score worse on memory-tasks.
The memory-capacity of young people is likely to be affected with the same severity of brain-tissue changes as the attention-deprived group.
The only thing I can think of to mitigate that is:
2) The Individual’s Drive to learn, improve, and develop Competence.
Those two factors could make them remember and use the facts they absorb from research.
A Bright Spot. It’s Not So Bad For The Adults:
So there is some good news.
In the search for some kind of Information Traffic-Cop to deal with the deluge,
It seems like the Adults in the study had it!
Furthermore, networked-technology seemed to have Only good results on the older groups.
Whether it was:
1) Decreased Loneliness
2) Staving-Off Cognitive Decline
The MRI scans of adults showed that their ability to balance and use technology for more-exclusively-positive ends was better.
So What Do I Do If I Have A Problem?:
The general perception seems to be that Nagging Networks can affect the brain like drugs.
So you have to think of yourself who has the somewhat apocryphal-sounding Internet Addiction Disorder.
And you will have to undertake a likely-excruciating course on our old friend,
The Happiness spark-plug that is Mindfulness Meditation.
Just as a normal person would have trouble fighting-back intrusive-thoughts and as Eckhart Tolle would advise, coming back to “The Now”,
Well, a network-addict would probably have it worse.
But if you can learn something bad, you can also learn something good.
What About Simpler Technology? One Device, One Function:
And the device-based version of Mindfulness?
I know it’s extravagant to suggest buying more than 1 device, but if you think about the simple zen of turning all the devices off,
And just reading a book, then you understand the power of something that does only 1 thing with no interruptions.
So maybe that Amazon Kindle Paperwhite really does have a structural-advantage over an iPad or a smartphone.
Or if you’re really crazy, how about reading a physical book?
Guidelines That Can Help Keep Us On The Straight & Narrow:
But the best case would be to avoid problems altogether.
That’s why the proposed screen-time guidelines seem like just a starting-point.
The current very-conservative World Health Organization’s guideline of no more than 1 Hour for children ages 2-5,
Seems like it should really be expanded for adolescents and young-adults right up until the age of 18,
Just so they can develop their brains as normally as-possible before they go crazy with too-many addictive distractions.
Because you can preach “Do Not Disturb” mode all you like, but how often does it really get used?
What If The Early Development Window Only Happens Once In A Lifetime?:
Okay, maybe it’s not that drastic, but each phase of life presents us with different opportunities.
And a lot of the ones concerned with Learning happen early in life.
We should all admit to ourselves that just because technology and devices are great,
They are not the only sources of good-development.
Social, Physical, and Spiritual influences on brain and temperament can all start at a very young age.
So if young people are great at learning, then they should be encouraged to do so through many different situations.
After-all, as isolating as technology can be, some day they will have to interact with other people in at-least a minimal way.
And the opportunities to learn in different environments become more limited as time goes by and people just focus on work & family.
Muscle Memory: Learn Good Habits First, So You Can Recall Them Later:
The changes that technology-based work create in us,
Like hunching, “Nerd Neck”, or all the problems from sitting too long,
Those can be mitigated in Adults.
Hopefully, young people can be spared the life-altering harmful side-effects of technology until the time they’re better able to deal with them.
Many people who were exposed to good-influences and practices when they were younger, found it easier to regain them when-needed as an adult.
Your Mom Was Right, Go Outside And Play!:
For example, what happens if kids spend all their time on computers of some type and don’t go out and play?
Since cardio has been shown to increase Neurogenesis, Grit, Decision-Making, and Planning,
Could that mean that under-socialized digital couch-potato kids will be less-intelligent and capable in the future?
At-least Parental-Control functionality seems to be growing in all technological avenues, including smartphones, and at-least someone is studying this stuff.
Perhaps future-generations will be less a set of “guinea pigs” than early internet-adopters were.
Until then, the effects of heavy internet use on all our brains may be something we have to practice fixing or at-least coping with for decades to come; paging Eckhart Tolle!…
Photo Credits: “vr headset camille”, by Samuel Zeiler
• Source: NICM
• Source Studies: J.WorldPsych – The “online brain”: how the Internet may be changing our cognition | NeuroImage – Media multitasking is associated with distractibility and increased prefrontal activity in adolescents and young adults