Is the Internet driving us mad?

Questions about the Internet’s negative effects on the mind are becoming serious discussions. The recent Newsweek article has some serious things to say and we all need to pay attention. Even among Web skeptics, the idea that a new technology might influence how we think and feel—let alone contribute to a great American crack-up—was considered silly and naive. Not anymore! The Internet was seen as just another medium, a delivery system, not a diabolical machine. It made people happier and more productive. And where was the proof that it caused harm? After all it helped us communicate better and faster.

Now, however, the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier ( as I have been saying in my blogs for years ) than previously believed to be. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic behavior. Our digitized minds are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.

Is the web driving us mad?

Teens fit some seven hours of screen time into the average school day; 11, if you count time spent multitasking on several devices. When President Obama last ran for office, the iPhone had yet to be launched. Now smartphones outnumber the old models in America, and more than a third of users get online before getting out of bed.

Meanwhile, texting has become like blinking: the average person, regardless of age, sends or receives about 400 texts a month, four times the 2007 number. The average teen processes an astounding 3,700 texts a month, double the 2007 figure.

The research is now making it clear that the Internet is not “just” another delivery system. It is creating a whole new mental environment, a digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed.

The web can cause disorders

“This is an issue as important and unprecedented as climate change,” says Susan Greenfield, a pharmacology professor at Oxford University who is working on a book about how digital culture is rewiring us—and not for the better. “We could create the most wonderful world for our kids but that’s not going to happen if we’re in denial and people sleepwalk into these technologies and end up glassy-eyed zombies.” Does the Internet make us crazy? Not the technology itself or the content, no. But a Newsweek review of findings from more than a dozen countries finds the answers pointing in a similar direction. Peter Whybrow, the director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, argues that “the computer is like electronic cocaine,” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. The Internet “leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,” says Nicholas Carr, whose book The Shallows, about the Web’s effect on cognition, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. It “fosters our obsessions, dependence, and stress reactions,” adds Larry Rosen, a California psychologist who has researched the Net’s effect for decades. It “encourages—and even promotes—insanity.”

Fear that the Internet and mobile technology contributes to addiction—not to mention the often related ADHD and OCD disorders—has persisted for decades, but for most of that time the naysayers prevailed, not anymore!

“There’s just something about the medium that’s addictive,” says Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he directs the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and Impulse Control Disorders Clinic. “I’ve seen plenty of patients who have no history of addictive behavior—or substance abuse of any kind—become addicted via the Internet and these other technologies.”

We may appear to be choosing to use this technology, but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell. “These rewards serve as jolts of energy that recharge the compulsion engine, much like the frisson a gambler receives as a new card hits the table,” MIT media scholar Judith Donath recently told Scientific American. “Cumulatively, the effect is potent and hard to resist.”

Recently it became possible to watch this kind of Web use rewire the brain. In 2008 Gary Small, the head of UCLA’s Memory and Aging Research Center, was the first to document changes in the brain as a result of even moderate Internet use. He rounded up 24 people, half of them experienced Web users, half of them newbies, and he passed them each through a brain scanner. The difference was striking, with the Web users displaying fundamentally altered prefrontal cortexes. But the real surprise was what happened next. The novices went away for a week, and were asked to spend a total of five hours online and then return for another scan. “The naive subjects had already rewired their brains,” he later wrote, musing darkly about what might happen when we spend more time online.

So whats the answer?

1. Be responsible and monitor your usage.

2. Resist the urge to spend more time online and unplug

3. Dont allow the phones (devices) to be present during mealtime

4. Keep time with others, be present, be focused on the face time with others which is becoming more rare and we must all try to bring back. This is the quality time between people.

5. Read a book about self help. So few people understand what really matters in this world. Avoid drama, media is not truth, resist the urge to place your value on how many FB friends you have…they are not real friends you know.

6. Find a Spiritual pursuit, it will ground you to what matters and help you avoid the seduction of the web.

7. Finally, reduce debt. You don’t need the most recent and fancy device to be a worthwhile person on this planet. 🙂 After all we now know that it will just make you stressed, unhappy and crazy!

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