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How the Internet distorts our brains

In 2008, journalist Nicholas Carr published his resonant essay «Is Google making us stupid?”. It was the first attempt to explain how the Internet affects our brains and integral parts of its activity – memory, attention, thinking, perception of ourselves and of the world around us.Carr’s conclusions were far from optimistic.

Of course, in the story of the degradation of the human mind there where positive episodes. It was found that adolescents who play computer games show impressive progress in switching between tasks and visual objects. Also experienced Web surfers have the ability to learn in a very short time to consider a web page and to determine for themselves how useful it can be.

The speed and impulsivity should be considered as priority dominant in modern web browsing – Internet users develop skills and habits that help them to somehow cope with the flow of abundance of content. But they are unlikely to know that the growth of some brain functions means weakening the other.

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So how does tape thinking affects our consciousness? The increasing speed of perception and reaction begins to drown understanding. Carr pointed out that an active Internet user becomes extremely vulnerable to any distractions, while the depth of understanding of the information and the ability to focus on one aspect is dramatically reduced. We’ve got developed all-encompassing social networks and mobile Internet delivering information. Facebook has integrated into the pulse of millions of human lives, as a needle with an endless donor content from friends, companies and brands, media and celebrities. Mobile Internet has made it possible to turn to the source of information almost everywhere, and turned us into targets for endless messages, push-notifications and updates – in other words, all sorts of distractions.

Of course, we try to surround ourself with useful and high-quality information. We need to see the news and pictures from our friends and relatives. If we wish, we can have fun and learn something new, 24 hours a day. Also, in almost any situation, we are ready to respond to an important message. But have you ever wondered how superavailability and obsessive abundance of information affect your lifestyle? Or how you start to think and process new information, under the influence of social networks?

All the information that gets into our field of vision, is first processed in RAM. If the data are regarded as important, they are transferred to the deep memory, whose reserves are almost limitless.

In contrast to the deep memory, whose wealth and danger most of the time remain intact, we constantly use RAM – and, if we don’t, it means that the person is in a coma. The RAM volume is very limited – it can not at the same time save more than three or four units of information. Now imagine how many units every minute a modern man gets?

Sites like Facebook or Twitter allure the user – they stay well ahead of time. Mental overload becomes even stronger than before. Random access memory gets overloaded with new information and it strongly undermines our cognitive filters and makes us lose important data. Inflated cognitive load prevents us to translate information into knowledge, so we lose the ability to create strong relationships with our own memories.

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And we can not stop scrolling the tape. Activity in social networks influences the pleasure center in the brain as well as food or sex.

 

The man has a free will, and not just evolutionary reflexes. But let us remember about the properties of our memory. Have you ever came into a room and forgot why you came there? Maybe sometimes you go to Facebook for five minutes to read an important personal message and an hour later find yourself discouraged reading another article or post? In this situation, two features of the brain form a synergistic effect: getting pleasure from new information or other people’s attention takes the first place, displacing from memory all the other things that seemed so important just an hour ago.

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Switching from one task to another greatly improves our cognitive load, prevents comprehension and retention of information.

If while working your phone will start ringing,  you will pay attention to it – and surely you’ll get distracted. And in most cases it’s something very insignificant – irrelevant personal note, the proposal to update the mobile application or a new tweet.

Abstracting, we always make our brain re-tune to a new task, thus wasting our mental resources. Making yourself superaccessible without closing the tab with personal messages to Facebook, push notifications on your smartphone, we destroy our own productivity. In fact, the main enemies of the working process are well known and, as a rule, they go hand in hand – it’s distractions (often not only virtual ones): the constant phone calls, talks between employees and banal noise does not help you to deal with your tasks. In any adequate set of rules for improving the productivity you can find advice about using “the plane mode” and breaks between intensive information perception.

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Fully surrendering to the power of new information habits, we lose the opportunity not only to work efficiently, but also the capacity for imagination and creative thinking. Between full concentration and distracted attention there is an intermediate type of perception – in the novel of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” it was designated as “irrevocable modality of the visible”.

Psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle devoted her speech at the TED conference to how staying connected with each other, we actually stay lonely. Being worried because of the time spent, you can not edit messages and predict the course of conversation, people replace live communication by virtual one. As a result, they find themselves surrounded by many “friends” with whom they haven’t a really deep connection. Building relationships is replaced by endless self-promotion and building compelling, virtual image.

If in ordinary life people talk about themselves for 30-40% of the conversation, in the social networks they spend on it 80% of the time. The survey of 3583 American women showed that choosing between what they would abandon for a month – a smartphone or sex – 48% of them were not willing to part with their smartphone. Half of the respondents check for updates every 15 minutes, and 39% have bought a special water-proof cover to take shower with smartphone.

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Replacing the physical emotions by the virtual chat we forget real emotions. Studies confirm that even deliberately simulated events on the Internet can cause us negative emotions, which the body reacts like a physical pain. It is important for us what they say about us on the Internet, and if they write something bad or don’t react on us at all, we feel bad. We can say that the absence can cause us a physical illness.

In the new fast paced world we have technologies that we do not have time to comprehend. We should think about common  rules of etiquette and informational hygiene.

There’s already a lot of sensible ideas about how to limit your intake of information, not to be crushed by an avalanche of messages. The most common of them are simple and logical: take breaks, switch off your phone during work and leisure,spend more time with family and friends, do not limit your communication by Internet – go to a bar, visit a public lecture or take a stroll in the park. Sometimes it is necessary to disconnect in order to preserve the ability to experience vivid insights and flashes of creativity, not to lose the sound of internal voices and to build real and not virtual relationships.

 

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