The Internet has completely changed day to day life for those who have easy access to it, and like anything that can exert a powerful influence in our lives, our brains are not immune to its effects.
There is research being conducted in the attempt to better understand how our brains might be altered by Internet use, and the preliminary findings point to both positive and negative results from our seemingly constantly connected existence.
How The Internet Changes Our Memory
With the Internet available in the palm of one’s hand via smartphones, we quite literally have access to more knowledge in one place than anyone ever did before. Not only this, but you have no need to flip through dozens of books to find an obscure fact. Instead, you just ask Google a question and receive an answer nearly instantaneously.
While this is no doubt a good thing that information is so readily available to more people than ever before, it might be harming the way our memories normally work.
For example, there is evidence that our long-term memories for things we have learned might not be formed when we obtain said learning from the Internet. This might be due to the simple fact that it makes no sense to commit the information to memory when you can just re-look it up whenever you need, leading to people making no mental effort to retain the information.
Of course, some items are best learned and committed to long-term memory so that the knowledge can be recalled and used when needed without having to refer to the Internet. Consider how a doctor must learn many, many things about the human body and its systems. It would be very bad if during every office visit with a patient, the doctor had to Google everything before answering any questions from their patients.
This is not to suggest some knowledge is not better left forgotten then retrieved online, however. With quick access, there is no need to memorize things like dates, phone numbers, etc., because you can just look it up online when relevant and free up your brain to focus on more important, meaningful tasks.
How The Internet Changes Our Social Brains
Humans are inherently social creatures. The proliferation of social media has no doubt transformed the way we interact socially, some of us even spending more time with friends online than in person.
Interestingly, the human brain seems to respond to social interactions online in a similar fashion to in person interactions. This means that the human brain interprets both online and offline social experiences similarly, if not identically.
While the upside of this means people are likely to be able to have happy social lives online, it also means bullying and rejection online can be similar to the same behaviors conducted offline. In other words, cyberbullying can be harmful and the brain can interpret it just as if it were bullying in person.
While the Internet is still relatively new in relation to how long the human race has existed, there is already evidence of how it is changes our brains and the way we interact with the world around us.
This has both positive and negative effects, like being able to access vast amounts of knowledge, but also being constantly connected and more distractible. Or being able to connect with friends on social media with ease and receiving positive social effects, but also being able to receive the negative impacts from bullying and rejection on those same sites.