What is the Internet Doing To Us?

Happy New Year! In this episode, I compare expert views about the internet made in 2010 and compare them to today’s realities. Stay tuned for a very provocative retrospective. Click here to download free resources cited in the podcast. Subscribe to this podcast on your favorite podcast platform. (i.e. Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, et cetera)


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Hi, I’m Jim Stroud and this is my podcast.

Happy New Year! 2020 is upon us and with it, lots and lots and lots of prediction about the new year and the next decade. But what about old predictions, especially those made a decade ago? Well, I did a bit of research on the views and expert opinions of how the internet was affecting society back in 2010. For the sake of my personal curiosity, I will share what people thought about the internet back then and compare it to what has happened since. Stay tuned for a very interesting retrospective.

Click here to download free resources about DuckDuckGo and Facebook.

Back in June 2010, Nicholas Carr, wrote a very controversial article for the Wall Street Journal called, “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” Mr. Carr cites the results from several cognitive researchers that he says presents a “deeply troubling” picture “at least to anyone who values the depth, rather than just the velocity, of human thought.” Mr. Carr wrote that, “People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read traditional linear text. People who watch busy multimedia presentations remember less than those who take in information in a more sedate and focused manner. People who are continually distracted by emails, alerts and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate. And people who juggle many tasks are less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.” Nicholas Carr was interviewed by PBS News Hour back then and had this to say

Arguing the other side, at about the same time, was Clay Shirky, author of the book, “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.” Basically, his assertion was that the internet was making us smarter because it empowered us to do good stuff on a large scale. He gave an example of this at the Web 2.0 Expo, just over a decade ago and there he said this. (Take a clip from the first 3 minutes).

So, here we are a decade later. Did the internet make us smarter or dumber? I’ll share with you some facts based on research, after this.

Click here to download free resources about DuckDuckGo and Facebook.

Huffpost has an intriguing article called, “This Is How The Internet Is Rewiring Your Brain” that was originally posted in 2013 and later updated in 2017. From what I can tell, it is still spot on. Here are a few quotes from that article.

Fact #1: The Internet may give you an addict’s brain. MRI research has shown that the brains of Internet users who have trouble controlling their craving to be constantly plugged-in exhibit changes similar to those seen in people addicted to drugs and alcohol. A 2011 study showed that unplugging from technology for one day gave some users physical and mental withdrawal symptoms, The Telegraph reported.

Fact #2: You may feel more lonely and jealous. Social media may make it easier to connect with others, but recent research by German scientists suggests that constantly viewing images of others’ vacation photos, personal achievements, etc. can trigger strong feelings of envy, even sadness. Researchers have even described the phenomenon as “Facebook depression.”

Fact #3: Internet use may heighten suicide risk in certain teens. After conducting a review of previous research on studies on teens’ Internet use, researchers at the University of Oxford in England concluded that online time is linked to an increased risk of suicide and self-harm among vulnerable adolescents. Their paper was published online on Oct. 30 in the journal PLOS ONE.

“We are not saying that all young people who go on the Internet increase their risk of suicide or self-harm,” one of the researchers, Dr. Paul Montgomery, professor of psycho-social intervention at the university, said in a written statement. “We are talking about vulnerable young people who are going online specifically to find out more about harming themselves or because they are considering suicide already. The question is whether the online content triggers a response so that they self-harm or take their own lives and we have found that there is a link.”

Fact #4: Memory problems may be more likely. Even a rather typical session of social media browsing can lead to information overload and make it harder to file away information in your memory, according to Dr. Erik Fransén, professor of computer science at Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology. A 2009 study from Stanford University suggests that the brains of people who are constantly bombarded with several streams of electronic information — from instant messaging to blogs — may find it difficult to pay attention and switch from one job to another efficiently.

Fact #5: But it’s not all bad — in moderation, the Internet can actually boost brain function. A 2008 study suggests that use of Internet search engines can stimulate neural activation patterns and potentially enhance brain function in older adults.

“The study results are encouraging, that emerging computerized technologies may have physiological effects and potential benefits for middle-aged and older adults,” the study’s principal investigator, Dr. Gary Small, professor of neuroscience and human behavior at UCLA, said in a written statement. “Internet searching engages complicated brain activity, which may help exercise and improve brain function.”

So, what are my thoughts? I think the internet a decade ago and the today has the potential for great good and even greater evil, like all things, it is best when used in moderation. One concern that I have now that was not mainstream a decade ago, is the sense of privacy loss. I predict that over the next decade there will be a massive off the grid movement where people build communities akin to Amish communities for their personal lives and relegate tech to their work lives. This will be done in an effort to regain a sense of personal privacy and a sense of humanity. I think also that there will be a movement to ban open cellphone use in restaurants and certain public areas; pretty much the same way smoking has been banned as a health hazard.

But, that’s just my prediction for the next decade. What’s yours?


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