May 17, 2012 at 6:18 am, by Carl

Two years aog, I wrote then about the coming challenges, issues and potential (good and bad) for the country relative to the Internet.  I think the most powerful bit in that blog post was this:


Negative Implications for the Brain


Yet, increasingly as my daughters have aged toward their teen years, I have worried about the time they have spent with media.  Research over the past 30 years has raised the negative specter of too much media.  And while the above researchers try to differentiate between TV and computer media, other experts see this as the same negative issue.  In the April issue ofFast Company, the magazine took a look at the impact of technology on education.


While the positive article was promoting much of the good feelings as the Wired article, they mentioned a troubling fact in passing.  “American children now spend 7.5 hours a day absorbing and creating media—as much time as they spend in school.  Even more remarkably[or negatively perhaps—ed] they multitask across screens  to cram 11 hours of content into those 7.5 hours.”   And that is happening in a myriad of ways—ipods, smartphones, computers, TV, game systems and so on.


So, worse than TV days, now we have children consuming 11 hours of content, created or not.  What, I wonder, does that do to the brain?  I know for myself, having been raised in the 70s, I don’t see much of an issue, but then I am not the multitasker.  In fact, what I see in me verses what I see in my daughter is what troubles me.  She is one of the examples—watching, listening, writing, all at the same time in a variety of ways.  And, her work via school suffers because of it.  She struggles to stay focused.  Many of my college student display the same sort of problem.

Later in that same blog post, I wrote about one of my now-favorite quotes about the Internet—that we are devolving the brain and, as one researcher said, “training our brains for crap.”  I said this:



Well, in the same Wired magazine, another article about the Internet presented the research of UCLA professor of psychiatry Gary Small who has put research to my concerns.  What Small has found is that the Internet actually rewires our brain neural pathways.  While this could be a positive or a negative, and we are just on the cusp of decades of research to determine a more full picture, Small’s observations are chilling.


Training our brains for crap


The article shares, “Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning.. . .[The Internet] is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain.”


One researcher from Stanford put it this way:  “Intensive multitaskers are suckers for irrelevancy; everything distracts them.”  Michael Merzenich, from the field of neuroplasticity, says that the Internet and how we use it is “training our brains to pay attention to crap.”

Well, two years later, things are not better.  I don’t think they are going to get any better.  This is the new normal, dealing with the noise, having to decide how to fight back…or if that is even possible.  My family has been recently discussing the best ways to help us each move forward…how to have less TV, less Internet, how to get outside even more.  I think we are actually well-balanced; we certainly are well aware of these issues (I make sure of that), yet even as conscious as we are to the challenges, we still drift like everyone else.  We get lost in the noise of overwhelming options, information input thrust at us from a myriad of devices and source.


I ended the blog post of 2010 saying this:  At best, we can arm ourselves with knowledge.  We can determine that after reading this post, its time to get up from the computer.  We can choose to do something tangible like building something, reading a real book or helping at some non-profit organization.  And we can warn others.


Today, I am not so sure.  I think we certainly do keep warning others, but I think we have to become more aggressive in fighting back to gain control over our brains, our times.  In the Bible, we know God set up the idea of “the Sabbath” which was meant to be a day of rest from the normal work of life.  As the noise of Internet, of always on, of location awareness increases, you should start to implement a weekly Sabbath from electronic connection.  Turn off the TV.  Turn off the Internet in your home.  Put your phone, iPod, Kindle Fire or other device into a drawer and close it.  Sit in silence.  Read a book…a real book.  Better, go be with people, real people and just talk.  Be present, just you and them.


Appreciate the moment.  You never know…you may not have too many left where turning off remains an option.