The Internet has been around for less than half a century. However, it has impacted every aspect of our lives including how we interact and source information. The Internet has pervaded our lives so much that you can hardly avoid it whether at home or at work. Since the online world has redefined how we live, there could be a possibility that it is also making changes to our brains. As a result, scientists are now trying to find out whether the Internet is affecting the functioning of our brain and if it does, how, and to what extent.
The research is based on a concept known as neuroplasticity. This is the ability of the brain to change structurally with time by forming new pathways. Neuroplasticity enables nerve cells in the brain to compensate for any damage in the brain and adjust to new situations.
An experimental study published in the Science Magazine showed that students retained less information because they knew they could easily access it by searching on the Internet. With about 50 percent of Americans using Google via their smartphones, the tendency to rely on Google rather than on our memories is growing.
This over-reliance on the Internet seems to be messing our brains in ways only time can tell. Since the brain now knows certain information is available online, it is learning to disregard it. The habit is reinforced every time you search and get information on the Internet. This means that the more we rely on the Internet to get information, the less likely the brain is to retain it leading to digital amnesia.
When researchers looked at digital multitasking, they realized that engaging in several activities on the Internet did not enhance the ability of people to multitask in other areas of their lives. Instead, they realized that it carried the risk of decreasing the ability to concentrate in the face of new distractions.
According to Joseph Firth, a researcher at Western Sydney University’s NICM Health Research Institute, the constant stream of online prompts and notifications make it hard to have undivided attention. This decreases concentration on a single task.
While previous generations relied on storing information mentally, today we can rest easy knowing that the Internet has got our back when it comes to facts and other information. Though this has its own benefits as it frees up resources in the brain to focus on other tasks, it might also have negative effects on our spatial memory.
The jury is still out on the long term impact of the Internet on our brains, but in the short term, we already know it is responsible for digital amnesia and distraction. So while it’s tempting to not commit something to memory “because it will always be on the Internet”, it’s probably a good idea to still try to remember what you read.