The Internet's simultaneous barrage of links, videos and social media options is probably making you dumber.
So says best-selling author Nicholas G. Carr in his 2010 book "The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains."
A finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, the book describes how the increasing amount of content we are exposed to online makes it extremely difficult to internalize information and turn it into longterm memories, according to Fortune.
Web pages are typically filled with many different things to click on, and even though you might think you ignore most of them, the brain is, indeed, making conscious decisions whether or not to click each link, share every post or watch every video.
Constantly forcing the brain to make these decisions impairs its ability to store the desired information being presented.
Carr reportedly said,
The redirection of our mental resources, from reading words to making judgments, may be imperceptible – our brains are quick – but it's been shown to impede comprehension and retention, particularly when repeated frequently.
A 2001 study published in the Journal of Digital Information asked two groups of people to read documents, with one group's reading material containing hypertext.
The hypertext group reportedly retained less information than the group reading documents without links.
In 2008, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles scanned the brains of 24 people as they used Google's search function.
Those who had the most previous experience with Google exhibited heightened activity in numerous parts of their brains, like their prefrontal cortexes, which are used to make decisions.
Participants with the least amount of Google experience only used the Internet for an hour per day, but after just five days of more regular use, they also began to display heightened activity in their prefrontal cortexes.
Information in books is easier to retain because, unlike the Internet, the source isn't simultaneously presenting other information and different actions to take, Carr said.
Books allow the brain to transfer a healthy amount of information from the "working memory" to the "longterm memory."
The Internet, however, can overload the brain with information, preventing the information from becoming stored as longterm memories.
Carr reportedly explained,
What we do transfer [on the Internet] is a jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream from one source.
The result, he said, is a race of "mindless consumers of data."
It seems if there's any lesson here, it's simply to read a book the next time you really want to learn something.
Citations: The Internet Makes Us Stupid and Here's Why (Fortune), UCLA study finds that searching the Internet increases brain function (UCLA Newsroom), Reading Hypertext and the Experience of Literature (Texas Digital Library)