We live in a world with immediate access to information. Websites are only a few clicks away, and a series of taps on our keyboard invokes a seemingly infinite list of hyperlinks and page descriptions.
With the internet all around us, how can we not spend the greatest part of our day online? According to an article published in the Telegraph, teenagers spend 27 hours a week online, nearly three times as long as in 2005.
But what is prolonged exposure to the internet doing to our brain? And more importantly, how is it affecting our learning?
The Internet Is Stealing our Concentration
Attending a recent lecture from neurobiologist Martin Korte, I learned that the internet ransacks our ability to focus. This is because our brain needs 15 minutes to concentrate on a new task, and every time we check our Facebook feed or update our Instagram status, we need to refocus on the work in front of us.
Moreover, according to developmental psychologist Maryanne Wolf, the style of reading promoted by the internet – one that leverages “efficiency” and immediacy” above all else – comes at the expense of losing our ability to interpret text and engage in deep reading . In other words, she thinks that we may become “mere decoders of information” who lack the ability to synthesise and connect with our reading.
This is particularly problematic in light of the fact that much of what we learn in school is absorbed from print media such as textbooks. When we are unable to comprehend and extract the major points from our reading, we miss out on countless new ideas presented to us in class, and consequently we are likely to perform below our capabilities on exams.
Are we becoming too connected?
Meanwhile, we are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools, or as my dad puts it, “I’ve outsourced my memory to my hard disk”.
Instead of remembering facts and ideas, our brain has adapted to recollect where we can find certain strands of information. In that regard, our brain has progressively transformed into an extension of a computer.
This idea – that our minds (should) operate like data-processing machines – is not only ingrained into the workings of the Internet, it also appears to be the network’s reigning business model.
This can be seen from Google’s ambition to build artificial intelligence or as Sergey Brin, joint founder of Google, said, “Certainly if you all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.”
I believe that this statement is unfounded, considering that our brain is much more than a memory with a finite storage capacity. Brin’s concept of the human brain clearly lacks the emotional aspects of social interaction and of building a true relationship.
However, most people may be unaware of how their internet habits deprive them of these gratifying social and emotional opportunities. I’ve seen it amongst my friends: they’re often so obsessed with their Whatsapp friends, that they barely listen when I try to start a conversation.
And how often have we experienced something like this:
Sitting at Starbucks, a stressed mum and her adorable daughter enter. Once they’re eating their croissants, the little kid asks ” Mummy, why is he wearing that strange jacket? Don’t you think it’s too warm for that?”. But mummy isn’t listening, she is staring at the screen on the table in front of her. Her daughter waits for a few seconds, then asks again. But her mum won’t listen. And though the girl is smiling, she’s actually dying inside.
So that’s why I am quitting (or not)…
Having seen for myself how the internet is destroying relationships and inhibiting our learning, has convinced me to use the internet more sustainably and healthily.
I would love to do a complete digital detox, but disconnecting entirely would be equally disturbing to my IB education, considering that:
- One of my IB classes is a Business Management SL online course with Pamoja Education
- CAS and TOK assignments are managed using Managebac (online planning software)
- The IB computer science SL course means that I am obliged to use the internet to develop a website.
- I don’t want to detach from writing this blog.
Nevertheless, I’ve developed a set of rules to facilitate this experiment and hold myself accountable for the duration of this event:
- I will not use the Internet for 30 days, unless any of the following circumstances apply.
- Research for homework is limited to 30 minutes per assignment, and prior to my use of the computer, the necessity of research must be evaluated.
- I may log on to Pamoja for my online course only to complete the given assignments, and may not browse the Internet for information unless rule 2 applies.
- I may update my Managebac once a week for a maximum of 30 minutes (no browsing allowed)
- I may log into my website only to publish posts, bearing in mind the time limit of 20 minutes.
- I am free to use Heliohost and related tools for computer science class, and only for computer science class.
- All internet use must be logged in a diary and reviewed at the end of each week.
I’m excited to see how my perception of the internet changes after these 30 days, and whether my productivity on schoolwork has soared.
I’ll keep you in the loop on my experience, but you want to do this challenge for yourself:
No Internet for 30 days
If you are struggling to quit social media, even though you would love to rid yourself of the pressure of being always on, the following video includes some excellent advice. If you prefer to read, you be interested in the story of an internet addict and how he quit, and a study on Google’s effect on memory. So Is Google Making Us Stupid?