Is the internet making us smarter, dumber – or, in some weird way, both?
Researchers all over the world are currently studying the measurable effect of internet use on the thought processes, memories, and behavior of humans. What they’re discovering, and what they predict, is reassuring and frightening in equal measure.
The researchers all agree on one point: the internet is changing us in very real ways.
On the plus side, brain scans done while subjects read printed material and while they surf the net show that the internet challenges the human brain significantly more than a book or magazine does, with twice as many neurons firing. The longer subjects used the internet, the more brain activity they showed. (These images are from scans done at UCLA comparing beginners and more savvy users.) What parts of the brain get caught up in the web? The areas used for decision-making and complex thought. This could be taken as proof that internet use boosts human intelligence.
But is it also changing the very definition of intelligence?
Some scientists believe we are losing the ability to absorb information and store it in our brains in a static fashion. Constantly switching from site to site on the internet – and back and forth between the web and e-mail – is destroying our attention span. We are losing direction and focus, not to mention our memories. We don’t have to remember information that is always available online.
Not everybody thinks this is a bad thing. As reported in a publication called Ideas and Discoveries, computer technology specialist Paul Jones believes that “once we spend less time on remembering things” we’ll have more brain space for new analytical skills.
Researcher Christine Greenhow of the University of Minnesota, also quoted in I&D, believes we will define intelligence differently a mere decade from now. She predicts we will see it as the ability to “condense widely distributed bits of information into a coherent form.”
Our brains are evolving with every keystroke and mouse click.
How do you feel about all this? Has the internet caused changes in the way your own brain functions?