10 Big Ways That Technology Affects Your Brain

Posted July 8, 2010

Staff Writer: Aniya Wells

The Internet and digital technology has wholly revolutionized the way we do business, conduct research, find entertainment and even socialize. It’s a godsend for college students, and arguably an invaluable tool for everyone from freelancers to CEOs to stay-at-home parents. But with all of the information and media that we’re exposed to everyday, our minds are actually changing. There’s a scientific and neurological shift in the way we process information, read, communicate and interact with each other, and some of it is quite frightening. Here are 10 big ways that technology affects your brain.

  1. It’s physically changing our brains:

    Brains are malleable, and through our power of imagination, virtual simulation and technology experiences, we’re actually changing the physical shapes of our brains, strengthening parts of the mind that can lead to a decrease in sense of self and human identity.

  2. Developing brains are especially at risk:

    Today, people "consume" about 12 hours of media — including TV and Internet — per day while at home, while in 1960, people consumed only 5 hours per day. Children are especially at risk because their minds are not developed enough to process so much digital stimulation or information, especially when it comes to prioritizing and practicing self control.

  3. It can be addictive:

    For lots of reasons, being plugged in can become a serious addiction which interferes with daily activities, child rearing, social events, normal conversation, and even business and work.

  4. We’re less able to think abstractly, but can tune out external distractions:

    Perhaps because of the immediacy of information, over-stimulation, and multitasking applications and technologies, our ability to think abstractly has been greatly affected. On the other hand, we’re better able to tune out external distractions like music or TV while processing information online or via a smart phone.

  5. Our neural pathways are affected:

    The change in attention span isn’t just "habitual," as this Guardian article points out, but neurological. Our neural pathways are actually being damaged, and we’re less able to really process and remember information, even though we’re constantly reading, or skimming, online.

  6. It affects our ability to read:

    Reading books or even longer articles from a medium like a newspaper has become more and more difficult for lots of frequent web users, as we’ve become accustomed to taking in information superficially without taking the time to really appreciate things like fully constructed arguments, narrative or even complex plot. This challenge may be a result of lowered attention span, but others believe that the way we think has actually changed, and our minds have "taken on a staccato quality," possibly because reading isn’t a human instinct. Just as we learned how to read, we’re un-learning it after years online.

  7. Fragmented communication leads to jitters and addictive personalities:

    This writer shared her experience "dreaming in Twitter": after too much Twittering, her brain couldn’t relax, and she and her friends attuned the experience to having ADD-like symptoms. Their concentration is limited to 140-character quips, and addictive personality traits surfaced almost immediately after she got the hang of sharing peak experiences and participating in global conversations.

  8. Our brains function more primitively:

    With such "deluge[s]" of information popping up at a constant rate, we’re more prone to panic and irrational reactions to e-mails, blog posts and other things online. We get too excited too easily, feel bored and empty when we’re not plugged in, and feel impulsive and compelled to respond to every piece of data coming in.

  9. We’re losing our sense of place, and the ability to contextualize:

    Scientists and researchers have pinpointed a problem with GPS and other direction services like Google Maps: we’re given directions to follow, but no context to put it all in. This lack of understanding and personal customization or familiarity makes us more likely to forget something or miss out on a piece of information altogether. Social networking is being used to help solve the problem, but if we rely on technology as a one-sided provider, we lose our ability to contextualize.

  10. We process visual information more quickly:

    Those who spend more time reading webpages and playing video or computer games are able to process visual information and translate visual symbols at a much faster rate than those who don’t.

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