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Like most things, the Internet has its good and its dark side. And, considering the pervasiveness of the Internet in society, it is certainly having an effect on our brains. After all, everything we do affects our brain. Though up until the 1980’s, it was universally believed that the steam engine was the foremost invention of the Industrial Revolution, technology and science historian, Lewis Mumford, had long before proposed that that clock was in fact the key machine of the modern Industrial age. And, just as people began operating and planning according to seconds and minutes, in the age of the internet, we are rewiring our “plastic” brain to function more and more like computers. Processing, decoding and storing floods of information at a rate faster than we ever have before, our brains are becoming highly adapted to taking on scores of tasks at once.


Browsing Makes You Smarter

A 2008 study conducted by the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA found that middle-aged and older adults who spent time browsing the web not only boosted their brain power but also could help prevent cognitive decline such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia later on in life.

The study looked at the brain activity of 24 neurologically normal volunteers between the ages of 55 and 76. Half had experience web surfing, the other half did not. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans the scientists recorded the brain-circuitry changes (the blood flow through the brain) and compared them as the patients performed web searches and as they read book passages.

A remarkable finding was that though all participants showed significant brain activity during book-reading tasks, which correspond to language, reading, memory and visual abilities, the web-savvy group also registered activity in the areas of the brain which control decision-making and complex reasoning. With the wealth of choices available on the net, knowing how to perform the most effective searches and making decisions on what to click on, engages important cognitive circuits in the brain. This finding also demonstrated that our brains are sensitive, or, “plastic”, and can continue to learn as we grow older.

So spending time on the Internet can be beneficial as you get older, but what about when you’re young? According to researchers from Michigan State University, home Internet access can be a good educational tool, especially for hard-to-reach populations. Also, it has had positive effects on the academic performance of low-income, mostly African American children and teenagers.

Toddler Using Computer

On a whole, there have been significant improvements in reading achievements which are attributable to the fact that spending more time online means spending more time reading (typically). source. Moreover, findings indicate that children who used the Internet for an average of 30 minutes a day, had higher standardized test scores in reading and higher grade point averages, compared to those who used it less. However, Internet use had no effect on math scores.

Too much of something is bad enough

Nowadays, the majority of businesses are on a hosted exchange server and likely use web based CRM software in order to plan and store critical information and this is an interesting phenomenon when we look at how the human brain processes information on the Net. The Internet is definitely keeping our brains active and also doing a great deal to improve our efficiency, but some researchers and psychologists worry that the impact of information overload can also have its damaging effects on our lives. Atlantic Monthly’s article Is Google Making Us Stupid questions the flipside of the complex information system. According to developmental psychologist at Tufts University, Maryanne Wolf, “We are not only what we read. We are how we read.”

“Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.”

Just because we have more information, doesn’t necessarily mean that the information is better. In fact, it could even be argued that information is being dumb-down and infantilized due to our ever-shrinking attention spans. This bombardment of information, according to some psychologists and researchers, could even end up “interfering with our sleep, sabotaging our concentration and undermining our immune systems”. [Source].

But the blame cannot merely be put on technology itself. The user does of course play a big role in how they choose to use, or misuse what is available to them. The Internet is not some extraneous force that is just happening to us; it develops and evolves to cater to our demands. With a large number of users spending hours on Web searches that aren’t particularly mind enriching (hello Facebook!), the user is ultimately the one in control.

Information technology is still a relatively new concept for most people. We are still in beginning stages of developing our own unique methods of sifting through the trash (so to speak). But like a commercial on television, we will soon be able to tune out what is extraneous and eventually make the best of this powerful tool.


Posted by RJ at 12:05 pm at 19. June 2009

Great article, maybe we’ll begin funding our libraries better to provide greater access for seniors to information technology.

Posted by Technolik at 12:12 pm at 19. June 2009

very interesting article….I really hope this will help addicted people to understand the consequences and the thing that everything is good but just in small packages when is too much it can hurt you and your brain

Posted by laila at 5:53 pm at 19. June 2009

Typical. Journalists have never known the difference between correlation and causation. I guess bloggers aren’t much better.

“Moreover, findings indicate that children who used the Internet for an average of 30 minutes a day, had higher standardized test scores in reading and higher grade point averages, compared to those who used it less.”

That’s probably not “the internet affect[ing] your brain”, that’s probably due to the fact that children who have access to the Internet for an average of 30 minutes a day are part of more advantaged socio-economic backgrounds, and it’s long been known that that correlates very highly with higher GPAs and test scores.

Posted by seba at 8:04 pm at 19. June 2009

I don’t agree Laila… Look at most scientists, writers, philosophers and great minds in Europe in the last 200 years. You will find that very many of them came from the countryside. What makes you get higher grades, is not being part of a higher step in society, but rather not using your spare time for Wii, football or smoking pot. Those kids using the Internet only had access to more information and as the article mentions, diversely stimulated their brains. I believe these people doing these researches are not retards, and can select their segment on rational criteria…

Posted by Tyrone at 9:29 pm at 19. June 2009

The Internet may be improving our brains in part because we have to process and filter so much more information now.

Posted by Steve Bell at 1:46 am at 20. June 2009

When I want information on a topic I’m poorly acquainted with, I go first to the internet. I often finish up in an academic paper or eg Google Books, reading a facsimilae of a printed page. I note the authors who appear informed on the subject, then go (usually online to library catalogues).

In the process of searching I often find cross-links to connected topics of which I was unaware. Sometimes this is a distraction but more often than not it is useful.and relevant.

As a journalist, I possibly have a “scanning” kind of mind already; but I think internet search gives me breadth of associative linkages, which poring over one or two books would not. In that sense it does inculcate a new way of thinking. But the books give me the depth and I still use them.

I have been using the internet since the early 1990s (I did downoad one report from ARPANET with the help of a US Army intermediary in the mid-70s) and am aged 61.

Posted by CheeseDuck at 8:57 am at 20. June 2009


Posted by Doug at 11:03 am at 21. June 2009

Web surfing might be good for overall intelligence, but it has killed my attention span. I used to be able to

Oooh, look! Shiny!

Posted by GuitarBizarre at 1:41 pm at 24. June 2009

Seba – I disagree with you. None of your points are backed up, and you don’t take into account the possibility of great minds arising in urban areas, nor do you address what exactly defines that to you. 200 years ago, ‘urban’ meant a very different thing.

Not to mention, the correlation still doesn’t imply causality in your example. You also ignore the fact that in many cases, impoverishment and lack of internet access, also denotes a generally lower level of education in general. Compare a school in a high wealth area to one in a low wealth area and you’ll find the correlation of intelligence with wealth. There are lots of possible reasons for this, not all of them causal, but the fact is, rich kids have the money for internet, but rich kids also tend to live in areas where education as a whole is higher than poor ones.

Posted by helen farrell at 2:42 pm at 26. June 2009

library’s schools and all homes, young to old, rich to poor all should have a computers,there a extension to your intelligence,knowledge at hand.a gymnasium for the brain,there could be a problem with addiction,but people are mostly disciplined in this area.what i mean is,we need food, but there’s a lot of variety out there,and we carnt resist a Chang

Posted by Emma at 12:54 am at 28. June 2009

I have to disagree with the assertion that deep reading and internet surfing are mutually exclusive activities. Until I was about 14 or 15, I read a ton. I mean going to the library Friday afternoon, picking up 20 books and returning them in a few days. My grades actually suffered because I was more interested in reading than busywork.

Anyway, discovering the internet changed nothing. I found novel length fiction written by amateurs, often by adolescents for adolescents which I preferred very much over published novels for adolescents written by adults (who were so far removed from the reality of today’s adolescents as to make the novels more alien to my generation’s experience than a snapshot of it). I also found fanfiction, which, while much of it is pathetic drivel (probably in the same proportion as published works), some of it was incredible enough for me to reread. I say “incredible enough to reread” because rarely do I find a story that I want to re-experience rather than go off and find a new experience.

Fanfiction and amateur fiction communities online are massive, and always overlooked in the “books versus internet” discussions and articles.

But then besides fiction reading, the internet is a wealth of knowledge to which no encyclopedia can compare. When you read an article, you can find related articles by the time you finish the page. If you are satisfying a curiosity on panda mating habits, you may learn something which causes you to change your attention to the evolution of mating habits in many different species. This isn’t necessarily because you have a short attention span. It’s just as easily because satisfying curiosity leads to more curiosity.

The internet is free knowledge. The more accessible it becomes (and the less prevalent “educational” sites which only patronize my generation and fill them with a loathing for learning new things) the more adolescents will be able to discover things THEY want to know, and with so much less effort. Why should learning be difficult if it doesn’t have to be, anyway?

Posted by Kim Randall at 3:08 pm at 10. July 2009

Loved the information. Thanks for posting

Posted by maria at 2:45 am at 30. January 2010


Posted by nach at 10:06 pm at 25. July 2010

lol cheeseduck.

Posted by pilotbs at 7:34 am at 1. November 2010

i believe that the internet has effected my brain /in a very bad way , its made it slower, less attention span, it has made my brain think like pc i am not only thinking about myself imagine what would happen to the newer generation ,PC ADDICTS!!!! … scary huh
anywise it has a good side to it too but overdose of anything is a bad THING!
the internet is good but only for work and picking up information for leisure times as-well
anywise good luck !
:D ( its soo addictive )

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Posted by Cliff-CRM System Comparison Expert at 5:38 pm at 18. February 2011

Actually, this is pretty scary stuff. I am learning to focus and try not to multi-task when I learn. Hope I haven’t messed up my brain too much!

Posted by Goobenshlker at 4:25 pm at 23. February 2011

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Posted by Fisher Price Jumperoo at 7:16 pm at 21. August 2011

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Posted by Bello Oluwadamilare at 1:07 am at 20. October 2011

It realy make sence, i mean the use of internet, because it has impact +vely to ur daily life i.e get resarch, study, interact with people especialy ur friends and do so many things on the web. Though every that av advantages must definately av disadvantage, the disadvantages is that ill should not spend (use) all our limited time on web doing what is’t reasonable. Thanks for ur advise.

Posted by {Provillus at 9:34 pm at 6. December 2011

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Posted by joey at 11:13 am at 24. January 2012

Wow, well if this is true il be surfing the web for the rest of my life!But how can it have a positive effect on older people than younger people.of course the web is educational you can learn anything you want from it!

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Posted by Evelina at 9:16 pm at 29. May 2012

I don’t get how it makes you smarter when all you can be doing is playing video games or surfing the web for pictures of your favorite singer

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Posted by Elchert at 9:10 am at 19. July 2012

More information is more based filtering Computer and internet is a one BIG library full of information.

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