What is the internet really doing to our brains?

Nicholas Carr recently published ‘What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains; The Shallows’, a fascinating book which addresses just what the Internet and new media, all with its excessive information streams, are doing to us humans.

The book states neuroscientists have discovered when we use new technology or new media we shift our habits of mind – with our iPhones and laptops – we are in fact training our brain to be less attentive, arguably quicker, but ultimately more fickle.

Similarly to intellectual technology of the past such the invention of the map, which trained us to be more attuned to our surroundings, and the mechanical clock which changed our perception of time coordination; new media and the Internet at large are altering us almost irreversibly.

We were able to apply the benefits of the map and clock to our daily lives. Just as we can the benefits of the Internet, such as the ability to keep track of lots of things at once and multi-task better. And with having to battle constant distractions, bits of information and messages 24/7, it’s no wonder our brains have adapted so well.

However, Carr states the trade off is that we lose the ability to pay attention and our capacity for solitary thought.  Both of which are important for not only taking in information, but digesting it properly. Carr agues we begin to lose the facilities we don’t exercise and that our brain doesn’t care what aspects of it are being strengthened or weakened – it just responds to the way we use it.

He stresses it’s important to have a balance in thought –but what the web seems to be doing – is pushing us in the direction of skimming and scanning and multi tasking.  Alongside the parallel issue of, although recognise some of these facts, new media and the Internet are becoming expected in our educational, work and social and lives.

Bosses seem to be forever tapping away at their smart phones, firing out memos and meeting requests. Friends too, especially those of a certain age, seem to plan their entire social life around sites like Facebook, and so we understand how hard it is to set time aside to screen out distractions.

Down the line, Carr fears we may lose the ability to sit down and pay attention to one thing for a long period of time, and as a result lose creative and interesting thoughts; both essential to our intelligence and personality.

This isn’t a generational issue as it affects all of us presently and will continue to do in the future unless it’s addressed. With 8 Billion minutes spent on Facebook every day, and employees time ‘wasted’ online equating to just shy of a Billion pounds last year alone – there are obvious business repercussions here too. If staff are struggling to focus and becoming more superficial in their thoughts, there is without doubt need for concern. Productivity and creativity are two pillars of any business that should be protected at all costs.

There’s an interesting debate to be opened here and Powwownow would love to know your opinion on the matter. Could the Internet really be bad for us and/or our businesses?

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