The Net Effect

Friday, April 03, 2009


Is Google making us stupid? Is it making us smarter? Have we lost our ability to concentrate? Are we more social or more isolated as a result of our constantly interconnected lives? Brooke takes a look at some of the research that attempts to answer the question: how is the internet affecting our brains?

Click here for the uncut interview with Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Comments [13]

Bilal Carter

The rotting of the brain is due to the use of the internet. We sit in front of a computer and talk in site like facebook, and myspace for hours with others and having no actual face to face conversations. With this all of these are surrounded by distractions and side jobs that can easily disrupt our concentration. It’s not the internet that is making us dumb, but more dependent. We have all of the information in the world literally at the tips of our fingers and tend to find interest in too many things. We lose time and the thought of following information to the fullest extent instead we tend to look for something that we want, find it use it and dispose it out of our memory until we need it again and will simply look it up again. We are not becoming dumb or are letting our brains rots we are just using our strengths to the fullest and are manipulating the internet the way it was build to do.

Apr. 27 2009 05:46 AM
Kevin McKague from Davison, Michigan

Discussions like these make me wonder how my old high school debate coach is doing these days.

For all of its positive attributes, I'm afraid that the internet has had a net negative impact on helping people distinguish legitimate sources of information from biased or illegitimate ones.

Rather than simply bringing the truth to the masses, the internet has given provided a false sense of equality to all information, and to all opinions. I'm afraid that rather than allowing people to find the truth, Google has simply made it much easier for those to cherry-pick information that suits their already held dispositions.

What we need are more high school debate teachers on the web, teaching people how to distinguish a legitimate source from those with a political ax to grind.

Apr. 10 2009 02:09 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Seems like a lot of work to meet your demanding standards but you could propose imedding them as links in the transcripts as they do with the light blue text in the promo material accompanying each segment (as above).

Frankly, I think you're just saying that you don't believe them. Maybe cholke on it.

Apr. 10 2009 01:28 AM
cholke from Chicago, IL

I listened to the uncut interview w/ Lee Rainie last night and was frustrated by how often a "study" or "research" would be mentioned w/o citation.

An interview is a difficult place to give a full citation, but could it be on the Web site somewhere? I wanted to look deeper into the subject, but the supporting documentation isn't easily accessible. Such as: "A recent British study found that the number of people saying that there is no one with whom they can discuss important matters nearly tripled in the last two decades." That's fascinating, but I need more than a country to track it down.

Apr. 08 2009 01:51 PM
P Flowers from Chicago, IL

While I am not the first to make this point, the irony cannot be overstated that a program that defends the accurate teaching of evolution also contains the kind of bastardization of evolutionary theory that makes Darwinism more difficult to defend. Gary Small argues that since the appearance of the tool coincides with the explosion in size of the human brain, this simple technological development must have driven evolution. He is conflating coincidence with causation. Would he similarly argue that the reign of the Sears Tower as the world's tallest building led to the development of the World Wide Web? Even if either example is completely correct, the reasoning is faulty and should be avoided at all costs.
Additionally, immediately pairing this botched example of Darwinian evolution by natural selection with the possible future scenario of evolution by brain-technology interfaces further confuses the concept. In a single breath he changes his meaning of the word "evolution." In the first case he means evolution via survival of the fittest, and in the case of brain-technology interfaces he uses evolution as a glorified word for change. Hopefully, we are not to assume that Small is suggesting that soon cyberhumans will kill off or outbreed the non-connected--or perhaps this IS what he means. While there is no sin in using the word "evolution" in either sense, it is confusing, if not deliberately misleading, for a scientist to pretend that Darwinian evolution and technological evolution are one in the same. The propagation of such confusion makes willful ignorance through the teaching of intellegent design even more convenient.

Apr. 08 2009 11:44 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

One last thought is required here.

Remember when Condi Rice so plantively proclaimed, " Who would have imagined...? and, yet now we know that, yes, it was imagined but no one wanted to admit that and, thus, the possiblity wasn't seriously studied.

Imagine, as Lennon said.

Apr. 07 2009 09:39 AM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Say, "I had to write this three times because my fingers hit wrong key combinations" and you'll understand why it came out used instead of unused genes,

Apr. 06 2009 07:05 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

I was waiting for Lamarck to come up!

As other posters may know, I abhor orthodoxies. Mr. Carroll, in 10th grade Biology II, drilled us that nature appeared to prefer variety, which promotes the survival of some form of life however adverse the conditons, and I suspect there is a mechanism that turns off long used genes and that sounds Lamarckinan to me. I wouldn't guess that this is a frequent or even remottely the predominant mechanism for biological evolution but as a possibility, to help boost evolution along, sure maybe.

The original Watson/Crick plastic model of DNA was in my 9th grade homeroom and Biology I classroom where I proposed that a particularly rich uranium deposit might have influenced a certain woman's rumored parthenogenisis.

Later, in a class called "Myth & Symbol in Religious Art & Architecture" where we were being lectured on the demise of the Olmecs, who worshipped panthers and tried to appear to be panthers, I proposed that they simply became panthers.

Here I enter taboo territory. I had already asked, in high school biology, why it was that, because horses and donkeys crossbreeds result in sterile individuals, it proved all such crossbreeds were sterile. Just now, I read Wikopedia and found that even those individuals are not uniformly sterile. The biblical prohibition on the "wasting of seed" finally becomes clear to me but does suggest another mechanism for evolution though one most people truly feel distaste in even contemplating. Thus, the taboo.

I'm not just suggesting it was people, folks. Though we did play with less distasteful, though more controlled, experiments on those lines with dogs, cats, all sorts of domestic animals and, yes, other people. Good breeding, don't you know.

Nature is the uncontrolled experiment.

Apr. 06 2009 06:59 PM
Sam Beran

The use/disuse hypothesis is a classic Lamarckian explanation. Cave fish lost their eyes because of adaptive advantges to blindness ( current theories being the feeing up of other neurons to allow for enhanced olfaction or the abscence of eyes allowing for advantageous changes in skull shape. In the Lamarckian model, if we tie the right arms of humans for many generations, but still allow them to produce at the same rate as other humans, the future generationis would slowly lose their right arms. This is incorrect.

The changes induced by computers on the brain may be permanent for an individual, but will not change the brain structure of the offspring unless they are subject to the same changes. The benefits are not passed on.

Biological evolution is Darwinian.

Apr. 06 2009 11:36 AM
Wyatt Coleman from Middleboro MA

Like with monetary wealth, the personal nature of an individual is amplified. Nice people are enabled to be nicer, and not so nice people are enabled to be... well, you know what I mean. The flood of information that is the internet will allow paths to whatever end of shallowness and laziness, or depth and growth, as we see fit to pursue.

There are other realms of internet life than Twitter and Facebook. There are intellectual and artistic forums. There are topical blogs. There are certainly people for whom these resources and pastimes are well integrated into multi-faceted lives. There will always be people who recede into their worlds of video games, social networking sites, refrigerators, drugs and even books. Others will go about their lives online, offline, idoors, outdoors, alone and with company. Normal life.

And briefly, regarding the re-wiring of the brain; cave fish lost their eyes in the wake of eras of disuse. That is the non-Darwinian evolution to which blackbox_jones has alluded. We are adding a world of new ways of processing information to our lives and brains, but we still have to process our three dimensional worlds to function.... to eat and to go to the bathroom. The old circuits will not atrophy.

Apr. 05 2009 02:01 PM
Chris Gray from New Haven, CT

Plus, if Kurzweil is correct, evolution of the brain will continue quite independently of genetics for quite some time.

I cannot say why, but until I re-read it today, I had always read your nom de plume as "blackbelt_", Mr. or Ms. Jones, though it never diminished my respect for the clarity of your thought.

My condolences to your entire city for the tragedy it suffered, yesterday.

Apr. 04 2009 04:02 PM
blackbox_jones from Binghamton NY

I think the use of the term is perhaps confusing, but not inaccurate. Not all evolution is Darwinian. Check the dictionary.

The word "evolution" can refer to any sort of long-term change, and usually does. It's accepted that our brains have evolved because of language and writing. The culture dictates the development of the brain across generations. The change is real, it's just not genetic.

I wonder about my seven cats. Clearly, they can understand some language now. Their brains must be different.

Apr. 04 2009 10:17 AM
Sam Beran from NY

Ironic that during the same program that a discusses intelligent design we have yet another distortion of Darwinian evolution.

It was not the use of tools that made our brain evolve anymore than it was the reaching for higher leaves that made the giraffe's neck evolve.

Evolution does not have a "goal". Those individuals with traits that are better suited to an environment and who then have a greater number of children move the path of evolution. Even if there are changes caused by technology to individual brains, unless those changes change the DNA itself, there will be no "evolution" of the brain. If my father was a weight lifter, I do not inherit his increased muscles.

Apr. 04 2009 08:49 AM

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