New Research Shows How the Internet is Re-Writing Our Stories, Re-wiring Our Brains
I don’t need to read the new research in scientific journals, Newsweek or the New York Times to know that hours of immersion in Facebook, email and web-surfing while keeping an eye on TV news or sports jangles my brain. I feel it. But seeing the dangers of it laid out in black and white moves me to DO something about it. Here’s a quick summary from the July 18, 2012 issue of Newsweek:1. The average person processes 450 texts a month. The average teen 3,700 a month. The opportunity for immediate sharing of the minutia of our lives can become the obligation. A popular guy turns on his phone and sees 100 new messages. He looks at the reporter, “How long do I have to keep doing this?” My teacher friend Patty volunteers at the concession stand with a student madly texting between hot dog and nacho requests. “Boy,” she says, “you must really have an important conversation going there. “Not really,” he responds, “have a look.” She scrolls his inbox: “Wuuzup?” “Nothin. Wazzup with you?” “Nothing here either…”
The pressure to carry on a continuous, witty commentary on the days of our lives” exhausts and overwhelms. If no one messages you, or “likes” you then you can feel irrelevant. Your story, your life feels so small. Text or post something in which others detect something weak or uncool and the mocking derision is swift and pervasive.
2. The computer, internet, etc. makes us anxious. The preponderance of research shows a link between internet use, instant messaging, emailing, chatting and depression among adolescents. Heavy users experience more blue moods, loneliness and loss of real world friends. Web use crowds out many of the things that make us feel happy and healthy—sleep, exercise and face time with others. (Not to mention face time with God.)
That jangled feeling we register when we’re plugged in too long or too often is really a form of anxiety with all the attending negative effects on our (souls and) bodies. Children describe mothers who are in the room, but not present to them. The anxiety a mom feels as she texts while she nurses may be interpreted by her baby as tension within the relationship, promoting anxiety in the child.
3. Tens of millions of people and as much as 30% of teens are internet addicted. Mostly to gaming virtual reality and social media. Early sign: spending more than 38 hours a week on-line. A college co-ed stays up til 3:00 am most nights watching YouTube, giggling softly while her roommate tries to sleep. We go on-line in bed before we turn out the lights and one third of us check in before we put our feet on the floor in the morning. How many millions of hours of sleep are lost because we can’t just turn our machines off and go to bed?
“Most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their links to the world.”—The University of Maryland. One in ten Stanford university iPhone users feels addicted to it. Most respondents in a Southern California survey (except those over 50) check their text messages, email or social network every 15 minutes.
Every ping promises an opportunity and we get a squirt of dopamine for answering the bell. “These rewards serve as jolts of energy that recharge the compulsion engine.”—MIT media scholar.
4. The brains of internet addicts show extra nerve cells for speed in the areas that control attention, control and executive function, like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts; ten to twenty percent shrinkage in areas that process speech, memory, motor control, emotion, and sensory and other information.
Similar earlier research once dismissed is now confirmed by more longitudinal and random sampling. Critics are quieting. Even the heads of major internet companies are huddling to discuss how they might develop a responsible, cautionary message similar to the beer companies “Don’t drink and drive.”
It’s time for all of us who value the one and only brain God gave us to take charge of our connection habits. I am multi-tasking less, surfing less, facebooking less, reading interesting stuff less and turning this machine off. Join me in re-apportioning that time to more face time with others and doing strategic but non-urgent tasks that are not getting done.