Is the Internet controlling your brain?
The brain rewires itself to adjust to different information sources, claims a new book by Nicholas Carr entitled The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
A 2008 report, Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future, commissioned by the British Library and the Joint Information Systems Committee, backs up Carr’s claims finding “a strong tendency towards shallow, horizontal, ‘flicking’ behaviour in digital libraries.”
The way we read, according to the study, has altered. We no longer evaluate meaning, but rather scan for quick answers and are constantly distracted. And this distraction is addictive.
Carr told Reuters that when he was writing his book, he switched off Facebook and Twitter and restricted e-mail access. He went through a withdrawal process for a couple of weeks, where he felt “befuddled”, but after that, his concentration returned and his productivity drastically increased.
Other studies, including studies by Harvard and Princeton universities, have shown that human beings become addicted to fast thought because thinking fast gives us a feeling of elation. This may be why we find it so hard to just switch off our social networks. On 31 May, a large group of people held a “Quit Facebook Day”, committed to getting a significant number of users to delete their Facebook accounts due to privacy concerns, but the day was a flop, with only 30 000 people actually deciding to kick the habit (Facebook gets 840 000 new users per day ).
“Quitting Facebook isn’t easy,” the Quit Facebook Day group admits. “Facebook is engaging, enjoyable and, quite frankly, addictive. Quitting something like Facebook is like quitting smoking. It’s hard to stay on the wagon long enough to actually change your habits.”
There are a few applications around to help limit your social network usage. One such app is called “Freedom”. Blogger Rebecca Traister discovered the app, developed by University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Ph.D. candidate Fred Stutzman, last year. “Even as a comparative Luddite,” she explains, “I find myself bewitched, bewildered and deeply bothered by the number of minutes, hours, days I spend circling the online drain.”
“Freedom”, which cuts off network access for a set amount of time, seemed the perfect solution. What she found, though, was she still experienced what she calls a “phantom limb period” when she desired to click everything and was surprised to find it didn’t work. Her productivity did increase but after weeks of using the app, she still battled to switch it on for more than 15 minutes at a time.
It seems our lives are governed by this new media, perhaps more than we are willing to admit. However, it’s not all bad. According to Carr, our brains have also become more adept at making fast, visual decisions and at finding valuable information segments quickly.
It seems that different does not necessarily mean bad. The internet itself is not necessarily evil, but the research of Carr and others shows we need to be weary of our use of it, and of how much control we are giving to it.
~ by tallulahlucy on June 10, 2010.