What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains

3 min read
Transcript 0:00 So you are reading an article online when you get an instant message...

Transcript

0:00
So you are reading an article online when you get an instant message with a link to
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a funny photo, which of course you have to share. And now you are reading your Facebook
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News Wall, which sends you to a video of a panda bear attacking a kid. And now you are
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reading wikipedia to learn everything you can about the violent behavior of panda bears.
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And this is what 3 minutes on the internet can be like.
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We live like this all the time, and it has to have some kind of effect on us.
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The ‘net is making us more superficial as thinkers.
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That is Nicholas Carr. He is the author of, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing
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to our Brains.”
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To understand this whole thing better we need to go way back in time, to say, like, the
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prehistoric age.
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You wanted to know everything was going on around you because the more you knew about
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your surroundings the less likely you were to get attacked by a predator. And there’s
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even evidence that our brains release some dopamine – a pleasure inducing neurotransmitter
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chemical – to reward us for seeking out and finding new information.
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So, getting distracted felt good and helped us stay alive. But the problem is that nowadays,
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predators aren’t much of an issue, but we still have the same brains. And also, there’s
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the internet, which is…
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It’s an incredibly information rich environment, uh, that the ‘net creates for us. And that’s
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why we use it so much. I mean, sounds, pictures, words, texts. And what this tends to do is
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promote a sort of compulsive behavior in which we are constantly checking your smart phone,
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constantly glancing at our email inbox. We’re kind of living in this perpetual state of
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distraction and interruption.
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Which is dangerous because…
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That mode of thinking crowds out the more contemplative calmer modes of thinking.
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And that focused, calm thinking is actually how we learn. It’s a process called memory
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consolidation.
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And that means the transfer of information from our short term working memory, to our
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long term memory. And it’s through moving information from your working memory to your
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long term memory that you create connections between that information and everything else
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you know.
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So you’ve got this awesome, life changing piece of information in your short term memory,
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but then you hear that email ding, and poof, there it goes. That email takes its place,
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and you never get a chance to learn anything, all because of one distraction.
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So attention is the key. And if we lose control of our attention, or are constantly dividing
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our attention, uh, then we don’t really enjoy that consolidation process.
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But I can hear it now, someone is out there saying, “Uh, what does learning matter if
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all of the information in the world is just a Google search away?” Well…
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Um, that is is kind of short-changing our, our intellects. If that’s the way you’re using
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your mind, just kind of searching very quickly and finding information and then forgetting
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it very quickly, you’re never building knowledge. You’re simply, you’re, you’re kind of thinking
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like a computer.
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Which means that our very humanity is at stake. And it would be a shame if we all got assimilated,
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because, well, humanity is pretty neat.
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I really believe that if you look at the great monuments of culture, they come from people
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who are able to pay attention, who control their mind. That’s what allows us to think
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in the highest terms and think conceptually, think critically, uh, think in some very creative
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ways.
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And it’s this kind of thinking that’s at risk: being eroded one cute cat video at a time.
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Don’t get us wrong: The internet is good for lots of things, and it should be celebrated.
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But the best thing we can do for our minds is to find some time every day to unplug,
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calm down, and focus on one thing at a time.
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Your email — and those cats — will be here when you get back.

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