6 Ways The Internet Is Slowly Transforming Our Minds

With the Internet permeating every facet of our working and personal lives, our minds are struggling to keep up to the development. Many of us have grown accustomed to staying online 24/7 that we feel at loss when we unplug. We need to have constant access to our messengers, social networks and apps of all kinds to feel part of the connected world.

It is no surprise that our growing dependence on this revolutionary technology is changing the way we think, especially so for Gen-Z population who grew up not realising that an alternate world existed before them.

We are often unaware of outside forces that are affecting us on the inside because they typically happen at a subconscious level. The same can be said of technologies that which have been assimilated into our lives, from the television to the world wide web. Here are some major ways which the internet have transformed our minds behind the scene.

1) Boosts Brain Function

Generally speaking, internet surfing is much more complex than reading books since the process involves finding what we want on search engines and jumping from one hyperlink to another. For this reason, when middle-aged and elderly participants were tasked to perform web searches on specific topics assigned by the researchers, the brain activity of those who had been using the internet were found to be more profound than those who rarely or never uses it.

A second brain scan was conducted two weeks later after the participants were asked to do internet searches for an hour each day for seven days. Amazingly, the inexperienced internet users now showed brain activity that was akin to those observed among participants who were already familiar with the internet.

The study proves that internet searching alone has the capability of rewiring our brain. Regions of the brain responsible for short-term memory and decision-making were activated during the second brain scan, suggesting that internet use boosted these specific brain functions.

If such short period of internet training is all it takes to improve our cognitive abilities, just imagine how much more advanced our mind is after years of exposure, not just to search engines like Google, but also to social media and a wide variety of interactive content available online. The exponential growth of user-generated content online over the past decade is a definite proof that we are becoming more creative as individuals.

2) Increases Creativity

The internet has given all of us a voice in cyberspace and the ability to connect with others seamlessly, to the extent that many of us are competing against each other to be heard. Through updating Facebook statuses, commenting and liking posts, uploading photos and videos, checking-in to places, etc, we seem to have no qualms about publicizing our personal lives despite the privacy risks they bring.

The good news is, as we crave to become popular on social media and on the internet as a whole, we inevitably become motivated to be more creative and original with our posts.

The societal shift from passive TV watching to that of active interactions on the internet has endowed us with what Clay Shirky from Wired Magazine termed as "cognitive surplus", providing us with more time on activities that requires more participation and engagement than simply watching TV.

There’s no denying that our minds are getting more inspired and more creative, what with our exposure to literally millions of creative mash-ups and clips on YouTube, clever quotes on social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and just about any other wacky ideas out there on the Net.

3) Affects Self-Image

The flip side to this newfound creative release through the internet is that some of us start feeling insecure about ourselves as we compare our lives with that of our friends’ based on what they upload onto social media and networks. Remember that these posts do not give an accurate picture of lives since many put up positive things online to impress others. The outcome of such erroneous comparisons is that we get unnecessarily envious over innocuous photos of people enjoying themselves in their vacations, for instance.

Researchers have uncovered that a third of the participants felt more negatively about their lives after visiting Facebook, especially those who only browsed the site and did not contribute any posts.

It seems then that at least for some of us, our mind has now unhealthily linked our participation on social networking sites to our self worth. This is probably why we are now hearing about how obsessive use of Facebook can cause depression and how people are getting addicted to Facebook. In much of such disorders, the source of the problem stems from perceived social pressures (think "Fear of Missing Out" – FOMO) and underlying self-esteem issues.

4) Shortens Attention Span

With the advent and proliferation of internet technology, our ability to sustain our attention on a single subject is markedly diminished. Hyperlinks appear everywhere on the internet, encouraging us to explore websites in a non-linear fashion. Prolonged and repeated internet surfing through clicking one link after another has conditioned our mind to only briefly scan through the content for each page before jumping to the next.

We often find ourselves burrowing into another topic that caught our eye before we even finish half of what we were looking at. As a matter-of-fact, one of the biggest challenges facing blog owners is how to get internet readers to keep reading their content.

If you need proof that we’re growing to become an impatient lot (at least online), have a look at these informative statistics on our attention span and internet browsing behaviours. The study revealed that our average attention span had fallen over 30% from 12 seconds in 2000, to 8 seconds in 2013.

On average, office workers check their email inbox 30 times in an hour. It was also found that in 53,573 webpage views, 17% lasted fewer than 4 seconds while only 4% lasted over 10 minutes! Keep this up and we’ll have trouble concentrating on any one thing at a time, forcing us to turn to multitasking.

5) Encourages Multi-Tasking

With our decreased ability to sustain attention on a single task, we resort to multitasking by engaging in several things all at once. My bet is that you’re probably doing something else besides reading this article right now: maybe listening to songs, chatting online, checking out your Facebook and email inbox on separate tabs — or even cycling on a stationary bike.

With the rise of portable smart devices, our mind has been rewired to become stimulated only when we perform different tasks simultaneously.

While most people perceive multitasking as getting more done in less time, the negative effects it has on our cognitive abilities actually outweigh the productivity. Research has shown that multitasking actually divides our attention, resulting in greater distractions and makes us, for lack of a better term, stupider. Only a rare 2% of the population known as the supertaskers have been found to perform better with multiple workloads.

Find out if you’re one of them by attempting this online multitasker test, "Gatekeeper Task for Supertasker" developed by the researchers of the study.

6) Reprograms Memory

In a study conducted in 2011, psychologist Dr. Betsy Sparrow concluded that the World Wide Web now serves as "an external memory storage space, and we make it responsible for remembering things". In a series of four memory experiments, it was revealed that participants had the tendency to think of computer terms like "Yahoo" or "Google" when posed with difficult trivia questions.

They fared better at remembering trivia statements when they thought they were not able to look them up in the computer during the recall test. When asked to type these trivia statements into the computer and save them into different folders, the participants were actually able to remember the folder locations better than the statements themselves!

What this study sought to show is that the internet has become a form of transactive memory source, and has consequently changed the way we remember things. Hypothesised by one of the researchers of the above study in 1985, transactive memory refers to how we rely on others who are more knowledgeable on a particular subject to help us recall information.

By "outsourcing" our memory to the internet, we are no longer limited by the capacity of our human brain. Search engines such as Google have become in our mind the gateway for accessing all kinds of information.

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