Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, iPhones, and tablets are lighting up homes all across the U.S. Computers are constantly dictating the actions of their users.
Julie's GPS activates when she gets into her car while her Bluetooth rests in her ear. Her car greets her. Julie accesses Facebook on her coffee break, eager to check her News Feed for the third time this morning. She moves on to her bagel and cream cheese while her smart phone is processing information faster than she can comprehend it. Or is that true? Can her brain process information just as fast as her smart phone can? Is it possible that the brain is a mapped supercomputer, and people are learning the effects of exposing a supercomputer to a limited form of cognitive thinking? Julie is not alone in her high-tech habits; her mind is set on the Internet just like thousands of other Americans.
The accessibility of the Internet has changed the way we think, feel, and interact with others. We can now chat with our aunt in Kansas and our sister in Vietnam at the same time via a video conference on Skype. Since the early '90s, the culture of the Internet has been dynamic and shifting.
Most people enjoy using the Internet on a daily basis. But for older adults, it could promote active learning as they grow older. A recent article from Discovery Science has found that those who use the Internet frequently use their brains more than those who just read a book.
This study was conducted by researchers at UCLA, who tested a group of middle-aged adults. The study measured brain activity levels while participants surfed the Web. Researchers found that each time the participant engaged in a new activity while surfing, their brain stimulation levels rose. Researchers also found that surfing the Internet was, in some ways, more stimulating than reading a book. Perhaps the reason for this increase in stimulation is because constantly being bombarded with new information causes the brain to react in a highly-developed manner. The Internet is not that user-friendly to many people in their 80s, but many members of the Baby Boomer generation are becoming more technologically inclined. The results of this study inspire the possibility that, in the future geriatric patients may be able to keep their brains active by surfing the Web.
However, the human brain needs more than the Internet to keep it active -- it needs social interaction. This is becoming especially problematic among teenagers.
Some people simply cannot disconnect. They may suffer the same symptoms as a heroin addict. Researchers are finding out that many adults and teens alike have a growing addiction to surfing the Web. This addiction can cause them to have more "white matter" in their brains. The white matter is affecting their lives and reducing the value of their real-life experiences.
Because of their regular use of technology, teens are not developing their social skills properly and becoming more withdrawn from society. In a recent study, teens that were not allowed to use technology became easily frustrated, had a harder time making decisions, and had impaired judgement. The research was conducted by a team in China, at the Jiao Tong University. They are calling it Internet Addiction Disorder or IAD. It does not have an official place in the world yet, but its starting to become more widely accepted. Researchers believe that the brain can become addicted to nearly anything, and thus the case for IAD is not surprising.
Other studies have concentrated on students and how debilitating their addiction to the Internet is. According to a recent study, they don't know how to easily live without constant access to the Internet. It is an actual need and an addiction. Symptoms are so similar to heroin withdrawal that researchers are baffled. They want to add it to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, but no official statement has been released as to if IAD will become the world's newest disease.
The Internet is both useful and destructive at the same time. It can help older adults reach new levels of cognitive functioning, and cause young adults to loose brain functioning.
There are a number of ways to reduce the way the Internet is affecting our brains' cognitive capacities. If we want to make sure that our brains are becoming the supercomputers that they really are, then we must try to have a few important factors involved in our daily lives.
First, remember that the brain is elastic, like any muscle that can be flexed and strengthened. By taking nature breaks in regular intervals and using the Internet in set increments, it is possible to train ourselves to have a faster cognition without the negative affects of too much Internet. Our flexible brains can snap back after many other addictions, so it is possible to fix IAD.
Next, think of the brain as a traveler. The best way to keep it in shape is to experience something new. Join the gym, go to a new place, try some Greek food, or do anything new. The more connections we make in this way, the larger the neural network grows. Novel experience is the key.
Finally, remember that a quick thinking brain is a healthy one. Having a faster processing speed from frequent Internet use is a good thing. But the vital component is to have a quick brain that functions as well offline as online. The brain is a supercomputer, and it's capabilities are unlimited.
During my work at Accelerated Intelligence in Los Angeles we focus on how we can improve people's cognitive abilities while staving off the ravages of neurodegenerative aging. People are always asking me how they can do this. My answer is surprisingly simple: eat well and often, exercise daily, supplement your diet with high quality brain-nourishing supplements and most importantly, seek novel experience.
While the Internet has become an essential part of daily life for most Americans, it's just as important to disconnect for awhile and to take care of the body, mind and spirit. Find the right balance of time online and in the real world, so you can improve your cognitive abilities and avoid forming an unhealthy set of habits that will cost you later in life.
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