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Is The Internet Destroying Your Brain?

Turns out, multi-tasking online doesn’t positively exercise our brains or mental state. Heavy Internet users are 2.5 times more likely to be depressed. And web addiction reduces the white matter in our brains, basically the transmitters responsible for our memory and sensory abilities.


Scared?

#1. Just Being Online Makes You Really, Really Depressed

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It has been theorized for basically as long as the Internet has been publicly available that being online can make you seriously, clinically depressed. It’s not an assertion made without evidence, as numerous surveys of infrequent-to-addicted internet users show a positive correlation between their number of web surfing hours logged and their subsequent feelings of sadness, isolation, and alienation. Some critics postulate that heavy use of the internet more than doubles a person’s chance of being depressed;others say that the internet might not be depression’s trigger so much as it is its refuge.

#2. Online Socializing Makes You Insular

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When communicating in person, the entire interaction is punctuated with non-verbal cues that can totally supercede the meaning of the words within it. Absent the conversation partner right in front of you to indicate his or her sarcasm or sincerity, you have only your own filters through which to interpret the language. It should come as no surprise that your internal filters are surprisingly dependent on your present mood; thus a semantically ambiguous phrase like “no thanks” sent after a particularly rough commute home is much more easily-absorbed as a sardonic dismissal instead of–and perhaps how it was intende–a mere polite refusal.

If the opposite happens, and you are endowed with a ton of friends on Facebook or some other social media site, other studies have demonstrated that your stress levels are likely through the roof. The higher your friend count, they say, the more likely you are to be consumed with publishing bite-sized and socially acceptable aspects of your personality to the online public, which only exacerbates issues with your real-life relationships. The end result: the stress of maintaining online friends prevents you from making–and maintaining–any more real ones.

#3. It Encourages Multitasking, Which Reduces Your Ability To Task, Period

Frustrated office work at his desk

The Internet, with the aid of computer hotkeys, has given its users the incredibly easy ability to jump between tasks, subjects and ideas within a matter of seconds. Because there’s no wait, we make these jumps frequently–really frequently–about every two minutes. Except we never actually utilize the “multi” part–or even the “task” part of the Internet’s supposed gift. Instead, we get caught in the ceaseless mental doldrums between interrupting and restarting. And so, given that clear memories of single events are unattainable on the Internet, the brain attempts to compensate for that with blurry, multiple-exposure memories of everything that happened.

Multi-tasking in this sense can reduce one’s ability to pay attention at all, and in turn reduces our ability to think critically and problem solve. Studies have shown that after a while, your ability to recall memories starts to deteriorate, along with your IQ. The more one multi-tasks, the greater the cognitive damage becomes and the harder it is for you to recover. And if these habits begin in childhood, the risk of developing an attention deficiency disorder spikes, as well as many other behavior problems down the line.

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#4. Google Is Replacing Your Memory

Memory and brain upgrade

When you learn something, you don’t burn the information into your brain like a hard drive, but rather map the neural pathway of sensory, motor, and abstract activity occurring at that moment. Thus, in recalling a memory you are actually reliving an identical brain state as when it was encoded, while at the same time adding new details from the present. And when you don’t recall a memory very often, your brain slowly scrubs off the older, more inane details as if de-fragging the whole system. This is a good thing, called transience, that the brain does anyway, allowing for more space to store information.

But when that process invariably starts with “Google it,” it presents a problem when trying recall information found through the search engine. For one, the brain likes to conserve energy, and it’s much more likely to remember the spoils of a whole day in the library archives than an answer provided provided after mere seconds while procrastinating. The even stranger extrapolation of this is that the brain doesn’t remember facts so much as it remembers where to find them. So as long as you never have to worry about Google being unavailable, you never have to dedicate brain space to remembering anything Google can tell you.

#5. It Encourages Addiction To Itself

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As the internet continues to act as your de facto brain, it becomes increasingly important for you to have handy at all times, which makes you use it more to compensate for your atrophied brain matter, which makes you use your brain less, thus requiring you to rely on the internet even more. It’s not an exaggeration, either: as well as being totally depressed, heavy users have shown shrunken sections of white matter in multiple sections of the brain.

For their part, social media sites are setting the standard for digital nicotine, employing all the bells and whistles to keep users coming back. Video game fans will be well aware of the thrill of leveling up: The screen flashes, the music plays, and the numbers go up; it’s all very gratifying. And it makes you want to do it again and again, until…you don’t even know what, but you’ll do everything in your power to feel this way once more. If this sounds familiar to something you’ve been warned about, it should; this is basically what happens when you get addicted to drugs.

#6. It’s Totally Integrated Into Society

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Even if you wanted to get away from the Internet, whether from your very real fears of NSA surveillance or your desire to stop hemorrhaging brain cells, it’s all but impossible now. As stated above, just about everyone has a smartphone as well as Internet at work and home. More and more, manufacturers and media are switching to digital means of delivery, making Internet a prerequisite for a certain standard of living and rendering any remaining devices like VCRs or boom boxes simply anachronistic.

Don’t go panicking just yet, though. You probably aren’t addicted to the internet, and you can take this test if you’re really worried about it. The potential for new technology to be dangerous will always be present, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to indulge in vices responsibly. Like anything that can become too much very quickly, the key word is moderation.