Nov 10, 2017 in Research

Can the Internet Change the Way We Think?

Is the Internet changing the way human beings think?  Has using the Internet started to change the actual structure of the brain?  These and other related questions are currently being explored by some of the world's top researchers.Like any other muscle,  the brain gets flabby and stiff when not properly exercised. However, through regular exercise and training it becomes more flexible, versatile and strong (Greenblatt, 773-796). The Internet can be in some ways, analogous to a heavy training machine for the brain.

Weight machinery is direct and facilitating; it supports an individual's quest to perform tasks while offering challenging resistance. However, if one chooses to mount a treadmill, yet not engage in the physical action of exercising, little or nothing will be accomplished.   Utilized properly, the Internet can serve this same purpose. In order to gain a true advantage of using the Internet, one must exercise his or her critical thinking skills to determine the authenticity and usefulness of the material that one reads online.  Used frivolously, the Internet can logically have a detrimental affect on one's thinking, just as remaining sedentary can adversely affect one's body.

Students who preform a search engine query and do not find what they are seeking can experience shifts in their thinking. (Greenblatt, 773-796) Search engines provide unlimited information. However acquiring knowledge is a function of the brain. It is up to the student to assimilate the information found on the Internet,  and to convert it into knowledge.  

Today, admission to best libraries and archives is no longer advised to the same degree that it once was,  since these entities  have continued with increased digitization of their archives. Jeremiads exist on the Internet,  claiming  that the Internet resonates the death knell of reading. However, it should be noted that people have continued reading, albeit online,  with the same consistently. (Greenblatt, 773-796). While in constant flux, the Internet offers a wealth  of information in the form of  documents, books and images. As long as free access to the Internet exists, it can be instrumental to education and a tool to the attainment of knowledge.

In his article in the Atlantic Monthly, Biologist Nicholas Carr  (2008) asks, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?”   He points out the the Internet has become the conduit for the majority of information that is currently accessible to people all over the world.  Carr points to evidence that he believes indicates  that the  Internet is remapping the neural circuitry and reprogramming the memory. Carr states, ‘‘My mind isn't going – so far as I can tell – but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think’’  Carr introduces  the idea that  the omnipresent impact of the Internet imposes itself substantially on our  cognitive procedures. He is of the opinion that our over-reliance on Internet technology not only changes the structure of our brain, but also the ways in which we think. (Carr (2008-06-12)  Retrieved 2008-11-01.)

The new style of learning via the Internet has lead us away from the common methods of past learning methods that included the  rote memorization of data. Because search engines will almost instantaneously retrieve any information that an individual may need, rote memorization is no longer needed. The Internet has  turned into a  prosthesis for our communal memory, and has thus changed our brains and the way we think. Though many  scientists have dismissed Carr’s concerns as  panic that can be associated with new technology, there is something to be said about changes in the way people learn since the introduction of the Internet. 

According to Carr, the contemporary neuroscience that exposes brain plasticity, depicts that how our daily habits can result in modifications to our neuronal structures. (Carr (2008-06-12)  Retrieved 2008-11-01). For example, illiterate people differ in brain structure to literate. If  past technologies such as  printing can shape human brains, then certainly it is  reasonable to presume that the current human  addiction to the Internet should do the same thing by changing the way people  think.

The Pew Research Centre Internet & American Life study (2005) suggested that while  some believe that the mounting environmental complications reflect that an there are more and more  people who  require the Internet to steer their  minds, they argue that we may be missing some of the capability required  for meditative attention that existed in the earlier print culture.   According to the study, individuals  are gaining new and essential methods of working.  (The Pew Global Attitudes Project. Retrieved 6 September 2011)

In his article titled, Get Smarter, in the Atlantic Monthly (2009)  Researcher Jamais Casio says, "The problem is not that we have too much data at our disposal, but that our tools and equipment that we use to manage it are still in an incomplete state.". Casio states  that the doubt that we have at present about  Internet learning will end with time.  He views the Internet,  not as a problem,  but as the beginning of a multitude of learning solutions that can change the brain's actual structure.

Cascio asserts that the  Internet assists  humankind in the development of  links between facts, ideas, data, and information, and that results in a more incorporated thought process.  The ubiquity of information and facts on the Internet enhances a kind of liquidity in human thinking.  Thinking becomes more  active and less reflective. What was  at one time obligatory to collect all obtainable fragments of data to bring together a structure of information,  now involves eliminating or disregarding redundant data in order to disclose the form of knowledge concealed within. Indeed creativity is being achieved by destruction instead of assembly. 

In conclusion, it is evident that  Internet usage affects our thinking.  However,  much depends upon  the manner in which it is used. The bottom line is that everything a human being does, in some way, changes his or her brain.   Each thought and experience effects  the continual alteration of the neural networks. While it can be stated that the Internet changes one's brain, the same thing can be said for singing in a church choir or washing the dishes. Regardless of what one does or thinks, traces of that activity are left in the brain. The jury is still out on the degree to which the Internet changes the brain. This is  a quest left to future researchers. 

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