The internet is one of the most significant innovations of all time. The story of who invented the internet is even significant. With it, the world has been able to interact with one another in ways never before imagined. As amazing as the changes have been, this unprecedented shift in the way we work has affected our brains in a myriad of ways.
In the short term, we've identified some positive and some negative effects. In this post, we're going to detail the ways the internet affects peoples' minds.
Children's minds work differently.
When you were a kid, you more than likely had to memorize a wide variety of information like famous names and events. All sorts of little details had to be taken in and then output during a test.
Nowadays, anyone can look up that information at a moment's notice. We're receiving more information than our brains can typically handle, and kids need to spend their brain cells on more important information that one can't simply look up.
Distraction is normal.
With the amount of information coming at us at all times, it's normal to get distracted. Music, Twitter, texting, and work can all be in front of us at one time. There is no way that your brain can focus on just one of those during any given period.
Instead, our brains are constantly dividing attention between the multiple distractions placed in front of us. The internet has made it so we are consistently over-stimulated and not being able to pay attention has become the new normal.
It infects our face-to-face conversations, work ethic, and even our focus on television shows and video games. For a lot of people, it's near impossible to sit away from our mobile devices from even a couple hours at a time, marking a massive shift in our attention spans.
Our brain power is realigned.
Whereas our brains used to be good at remembering things, they are now getting better at knowing how to find things. Instead of knowing a specific fact, we know where to find it online instead of the real world. Is this a good or a bad thing? It's hard to say, but it's definitely a new way of living.
Plus, it's changing how we go about problem-solving. No longer do we think of solutions. We only think of where to find those solutions.
Computers come before books.
When we wanted to know something, we used to go to a book to learn about it. Instead, we don't even consider a book to do so, rather Google's search engine.
This started with computers but was further pushed once we all got smartphones. Not only does this change apply to history and learning, but also to friends. We can look up former classmates, friends, or that person you just met. It only takes seconds of our time. This represents a shift in internet users' problem solving skills.
We're improving our judgement.
Back in the day, anyone could publish an article, and we'd believe it because it came from an official publication.
Nowadays, the internet provides a platform for anyone to publish an article at any time. This means a ton of terribly researched, made up pieces that we must all sift through.
While this sounds like a bad thing, it actually subconsciously teaches us to look past the bad writing and take in the good writing. We can tell what is poorly researched and what has real writing and knowledge behind it. Because we're exposed to so much of both sides, our brains get better at seeing the truth.
The human mind is being rewired for quantity.
Whereas we used to be reading online very carefully and taking in all of the information, overexposure to the internet and data, in general, has rewired our brains to plow through multiple articles in a short period of time.
The internet is changing the way writers present articles, focusing on bullet points, headlines, and bolded information instead of long paragraphs of text with little formatting.
Listicles have also blown up to take advantage of this, which is why you see websites like Buzzfeed posting top 10s on a daily basis. How this will affect our long-term memory is yet to be discovered, however.
"Down time" is nonexistent for internet users.
With the invention of smart phones, there is no such thing as "down time." Waiting in line for food? Those five minutes are a great time to check Twitter or the latest news. Taking the train to work? You can spend that time reading online articles from your favorite publications.
No longer do we wait around talking to friends or contemplating our thoughts. Instead, we're flooding our brains with information and keeping up with the rest of the world.
We're beginning to crave the internet.
When not on the internet, our brains are thinking about being on the internet. People are going on to Twitter, logging off, and then logging right back on without even realizing it.
Unlocking our phones and instantly logging into social media is becoming a habit that people are failing to question. There are even cases of users becoming irritable until they get their "fix" of the internet. There are different ways to curb internet addiction though.
It's affecting our creativity.
There are memory experts that believe we need to memorize things to improve our creativity. As mentioned previously, with the internet we don't need to do so, and it's directly affecting how creative we can be. It's one of the most terrifying facts about the internet.
However, it's been suggested that instead of damaging our creativity, the way we gather information is simply changing the way we approach imaginative tasks. We are just now delegating the creative process to the internet instead of only our brains.
People are becoming less empathetic.
The internet brings out the worst in a lot of people in a lot of ways. Because there are generally no consequences for what you say, people will say things simply to harm others.
On top of this, it's believed that the less you're focusing on a task, the less you can properly think about what to do. Thus your capacity for empathy is reduced. Our attention spans are so damaged that it's affecting the way we care for people.
As time goes on, we'll learn more and more about the internet and how it affects the way our minds work. If anything, we're likely to adapt more to the way it works than the opposite behavior. Whether it's for better or worse, we've yet to find out.
These changes are hard to document in the short term. It's something we have to pay attention to by tracking long-term memory effects and the effects of a social network. Only then will we know how the internet affects peoples' minds for sure.