ARTS & CULTURE EDITOR
It is both large and small, infinite and instant. It is the internet, a massive, pulsing brain armored in a cranium of silicon and metal.
Not only does it occupy almost every computer in the world—it now maintains a sort of omnipresence in our lives. From searching the location of a Starbucks to Googling the end date of World War II, we depend on its unlimited capacity for an unlimited supply of information.
However, while the internet definitely has its positive facets, it’s undeniable that such an intensis negatively altering our brains. Its profusion of information and general complexity are reshaping our ability to read and process information normally.
It’s crucial that we learn about these effects and take action to prevent them from making homes in our minds.
Though seemingly an innocent source for digital reading, the internet is reconstructing the way we read. To begin, our brains are incredibly pliant, according to Nicholas Carr, 2011 Pulitzer finalist and author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.”
Susan Greenfield agrees, Neuroscientist and Oxford professor stating that a core system of nerve cells can reshape themselves to respond appropriately to certain stimuli.
In this case, the figurative food for our minds is the influence of the World Wide Web, according to Greenfield.
Its incredible amount of information, available at the flick of a thumb, is unprecedented in the history of mankind. In order to adapt, the brain is rapidly developing a way to accommodate the barrage of data.
In a study conducted at the French laboratory LUTIN, researchers studied the eye movements of readers by collecting results from special glasses. They concluded that the readers were skimming the text instead of maintaining usual reading patterns, which were being fragmented by the graphics situated around the page and nonstop notifications from social media platforms.
The web’s nonstop distractions, says Carr, is converting us into disorganized, frivolous thinkers.
According to scientists, this perpetual stream of information is eroding our ability to focus. Results from a 2009 Stanford University study suggests that brains which are constantly inundated by electronic data are far less inclined to concentrate properly and switch topics competently than brains that aren’t.
Thus, many experts have drawn a link between the internet’s volume of information and the accelerated skim-reading so much of the web’s audience employs upon the text they encounter. They believe the rapid scan is intended to organize and select pieces of information deemed worthy by the reader.
However, because of its superficial nature, it impedes our ability to delve into, reflect upon, and form connections to the article or story.
In typical cases, it is automatically engaged while reading an interesting specimen of text, according to Jackson Bliss, an English lecturer at the University of California, Irvine.
A 1992 study concluded that people read digital samples with reduced comprehension, accuracy, and speed compared to reading paper books. Our intake of the internet’s information, continuously disturbed by flashy graphics and gaudy formats, exists largely on the surface, erasing the depth of reading that is necessary to yield rich mental material.
“When we read online,” says Maryanne Wolf, cognitive neuroscientist and developmental psychologist at Tufts University, “we tend to become mere decoders of information.”
The internet’s inventory of information is damaging, and somewhat replacing, this cognitive ability that all of us need in order to survive in a highly literate world. In fact, you, the reader, probably won’t even read this whole article right now. The bite-sized, digestible bits of information on the internet give you training wheels to avoid developing the skills to do so.
To prevent even more breakage to our brains, we should scatter our screen times into sporadic, shortened periods of times–and further educate ourselves on this rapidly proliferating problem. If the level of aggressive consumption we maintain right now persists, we might permanently harm the living, pulsing organ that makes us all human beings.
(Note: An extended version of this article was originally published in the HS Insider section of the Los Angeles Times.)
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