Internet and the brain

Hello there!  It’s our turn and we the Accessibility team at are pleased to bring you an article that is going to probably get you to sit up and take note. 
So many of us continue to ponder how much of an effect is the Internet having on our brain, our social behavior, and our overall being.  Well, our choice of article for this week has a few very interesting opinions to express.
Enjoy your day!
Your Accessibility team
Your brain on Google: Scientists examining whether digital age rewiring
young people’s minds
By MALCOLM RITTER, December 3, 2008
What does a teenage brain on Google look like? Do all those hours spent
online rewire the circuitry? Could these kids even relate better to
emoticons than to real people?
These sound like concerns from worried parents.  But they’re coming from
brain scientists.
While violent video games have gotten a lot of public attention, some
current concerns go well beyond that.  Some scientists think the wired world
may be changing the way we read, learn and interact with each other.
There are no firm answers yet.  But Dr.  Gary Small, a psychiatrist at UCLA,
argues that daily exposure to digital technologies such as the Internet and
smart phones can alter how the brain works.
When the brain spends more time on technology-related tasks and less time
exposed to other people, it drifts away from fundamental social skills like
reading facial expressions during conversation, Small asserts.
So brain circuits involved in face-to-face contact can become weaker, he
suggests.  That may lead to social awkwardness, an inability to interpret
nonverbal messages, isolation and less interest in traditional classroom
Small says the effect is strongest in so-called digital natives people in
their teens and 20s who have been “digitally hard-wired since toddlerhood.”
He thinks it’s important to help the digital natives improve their social
skills and older people digital immigrants improve their technology skills.
At least one 19-year-old Internet enthusiast gives Small’s idea a mixed
review.  John Rowe, who lives near Pasadena, Calif., spends six to 12 hours
online a day.  He flits from instant messaging his friends to games like
Cyber Nations and Galaxies Ablaze to online forums for game players and disc
Social skills? Rowe figures he and his buddies are doing just fine in that
department, thank you.  But he thinks Small may have a point about some
other people he knows.
“If I didn’t actively go out and try to spend time with friends, I wouldn’t
have the social skills that I do,” said Rowe, who reckons he spends three or
four nights a week out with his pals.  “You can’t just give up on having
normal friends that you see on a day-to-day basis.”
More than 2,000 years ago, Socrates warned about a different information
revolution the rise of the written word, which he considered a more
superficial way of learning than the oral tradition.  More recently, the
arrival of television sparked concerns that it would make children more
violent or passive and interfere with their education.
Small, who describes his modern-day concerns in a new book called
“iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind,”
acknowledges he doesn’t have an open-and-shut case that digital technology
is changing brain circuitry.
Still, his argument is “pretty interesting and certainly provocative,”
although difficult to prove, says brain scientist Tracey Shors of Rutgers
Others are skeptical.  Robert Kurzban, a University of Pennsylvania
psychologist, said scientists still have a lot to learn about how a person’s
experiences affect the way the brain is wired to deal with social
Life in the age of Google may even change how we read.
Normally, as a child learns to read, the brain builds pathways that
gradually allow for more sophisticated analysis and comprehension, says
Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, author of “Proust and the
Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.”
She calls that analysis and comprehension “deep reading.” But that takes
time, even if it’s just a fraction of a second, and today’s wired world is
all about speed, gathering a lot of superficial information fast.
Wolf asks what will happen as young children do more and more early reading
online.  Will their brains respond by short-circuiting parts of the normal
reading pathways that lead to deeper reading but which also take more time?
And will that harm their ability to reflect on what they’ve read?
Those questions deserve to be studied, Wolf says.  She thinks kids will need
instruction tailored to gaining reading comprehension in the digital world.
Some research suggests the brain actually benefits from Internet use.
A large study led by Mizuko Ito of the University of California, Irvine,
recently concluded that by hanging out online with friends sending instant
messages, for example teens learn valuable skills they’ll need to use at
work and socially in the digital age. 
includes lessons about issues like online privacy and what’s appropriate to
post and communicate on the internet, Ito said.
Rowe, the 19-year-old, said he and his buddies often debate whether
technology might actually be bad for you.  That includes kicking around the
argument that computer use makes people socially inept.
Of course, he added, “we spend a lot of time on the computer and still have
totally normal and perfect social lives.”
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About Donna Jodhan

Donna Jodhan is an award winning blind author, advocate, sight loss coach, blogger, podcast commentator, and accessibility specialist.
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