Unplug ASAP: How The Internet Might Actually Be Ruining Our Brains


When I was backpacking through Europe, a fellow traveler gave me his book (which was rad because I had a six-hour ferry ahead of me).

He had finished it, and as Reese Witherspoon showed us in "Wild," backpackers ditch unneeded items for the sake of comfort.

Per this unspoken rule, I was the proud owner of Hunter S. Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

I knew it was a movie starring resident-babe-slash-everyone's-favorite-weirdo Johnny Depp, but I had yet to see it. Based on the movie posters, I had a vague idea it was about tripping your balls off in the desert. Sweet.

Until we docked at the port, I could not put it down.

I was addicted to reading his stream of conscious ramblings about escapades in the hot sun and getting high as a freaking kite with no periods or punctuation to break my train of thought (you see what I just did there?)

Most would say I am a fast reader. But, this book was different; it was like the pages had speed on them.

I tucked my book away, grabbed my luggage and met my future friends who were waiting to show me to my new digs.

I excitedly chatted as we walked to my temporary home for the next few months.

My mouth was running a mile a minute, barely stopping to take a breath, and I pretty much scared them off.

I chalked up my overzealous mood to being in a new place, my exhaustion and my nerves.

The next morning, I headed to the beach with my book in tow. I basked in the sun for a few hours while devouring Hunter's words once again.

When I opened my mouth to speak, it was the same problem all over again. I sounded like a strung-out party girl who hadn't slept since before the New Millennium.

My mind was blown. It wasn't what I was consuming but how I was consuming it.

Because the words had no periods and pauses, my brain pretty much temporarily (thank God) rewired itself and operated in that same sped up, drugged-out fashion.

In other words, I had adopted Hunter's flow and had a contact high.

Fast forward to 2014: This startling revelation of years ago came back with a vengeance.

The Internet is "Fear and Loathing" face-melting my f*cking brain.

I'm a recovering digital strategist. It was my job to be “on” all of the time. I clicked every clickbait title, knew pop culture in real time (and then tweeted it) and communicated with thousands of voices through a screen daily.

I wore my busyness like a badge of freaking honor. I was important. The Internet needed me just as much as I needed its bits of digestible content, grumpy cat videos, memes, listicles about the '90s and Instagram fashionistas.

It wasn't until I went offline for two weeks on a trip to Hawaii that I realized I had a problem. On the eighth day, I woke up refreshed, calm and creative.

I even said out loud, “I feel like my old self.” The scary thing was I wasn't aware until that moment I even had an old self vs. a new self.

Back in NYC, I did what I do best: seek out info, data and smart people. I wanted insight as to why I felt this way and to see if I was the only one.

What I discovered was most people felt the same as me. The common denominator? We were all super “plugged-in.”

Technologist Nicholas Carr believes the Internet is teaching us to stop thinking.

So, he talked to some really smart folks and concluded that, yes, the Internet is rewiring our brains.

He says the Internet acts like a drug. Its gratifications are instant, and its accessibility is cheap and ubiquitous.

When we read online, we are scanning, skimming and multitasking. Maryanne Wolf, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University, says:

"We are not only what we read. We are how we read [...] We can't turn back. We should be simultaneously reading to children from books, giving them print, helping them learn this slower mode, and at the same time steadily increasing their immersion into the technological, digital age. It's both."

This is a call for concern since the Common Core standards have ditched handwriting after first grade in favor of keyboard proficiency.

An analogy I like to use is that of the birth control pills women were encouraged to take 15 years ago. All was fine and dandy when we were uninformed and happily preventing pregnancy.

But if you turn on cable TV today, you'll see those legal commercials asking you to dial the 1-800 number for a settlement.

It's too soon for us to know what the f*ck all this technology and digital communication is doing to our brains.

So, this begs the question: Why are we sprinting toward ditching books and force-feeding iPads to kids?

The main point of Carr's argument is the Internet, with all its glorious information, is taking the thought out of the human.

All of the hyperlinks, songs from the Cloud and news in your newsfeed don't just point us in the right direction of something similar we may “like,” they hurtle us towards them.

With books and tangible albums, you had to make the intellectual leap to the next avenue for yourself.

This isn't true any more. The machine serves it right up for you.

We consume the mind-melting drug that is the Internet with glazed-over eyes.

And, like a good addict, we click the next link: grumpy cat!

Citations: Jess Davis writes about unplugging & tech effects. Jess is a recovering Digital Strategist turned analog activist & Chief Rebel at Folk Rebellion - a movement where she is inspiring a counterculture for the tech-tethered to unplug the drug. (Jess Davis)