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Matthew Edlund, M.D.

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Overloaded: 7 Things You Should Know About Your Internet-Interrupted Brain (PHOTOS)

Posted: 07/28/10 08:00 AM ET

Information is physical. Nicholas Carr's excellent new book The Shallows looks at what happens if we spend eight or more hours a day jockeying with the internet, video games and cell phones. Turns out, it changes the brain. A lot. Here are the ways in which information-overload negatively affects cognitive functioning, plus some ways to regain your brain.

Broken Attention
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When engaged in any task all the human brain really has is attention, our ability to focus and respond. And our attention only functions inside the shell of what cognitive psychologists call working memory.

Too many interruptions, as Carr points out, and you lose your ability to move information from working into long term memory, where we can retrieve, contemplate and re-enact it -- in other words, think. Long term memories are for many of us our brain's "savings." They're what we will depend on in life to work and survive. We need such memories for learning, for pleasure and for creativity, and happen far less if we ceaselessly multitask through multimedia.

The new ways we use our brains also provokes hyper-arousal, the nervous, keyed up feeling that comes from doing so many things all at once. Too much arousal and your buzzing brain can't think straight. Without good long term memory and the thoughtful, deeper learning it provides, youngsters may never fully accomplish what they might. They run the risk of spending their lives as flunkies, rather than getting their chance to be the boss.
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So it's time to take your brain back. Use it. Enjoy it. Challenge it. Walk in a park -- you'll grow new brain cells. On your walk back from work, sing a song and move to the music. Read a book -- from cover to cover. Cook a meal with the kids.

Don't worry. Your computer, cell phone, iPad, and video consoles will do just fine without you.
They won't miss you at all.


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