The internet has not always existed; though it is difficult to imagine a world without it. In fact, the internet has changed much about human existence, such as the way that brains develop and function. Social behavior has been greatly impacted by the development of the internet. Moreover, our base psychological states are impacted by both our brain development and the social changes that the internet has caused. The internet has essentially modified the very way that we live our lives, but this modification has physical changes as well as behavioral and psychological changes. This essay explores the ways that the internet has impacted the way that our brains operate, the way the we socially interact, and the psychological states that make up our personality and character. Certainly, there are positive things that internet contributes to our lives, such as expanding our horizons and opportunities. It is the contention here that although the internet has positive attributes, these attributes are not enough to compensate for the way that the internet is changing our very being.
How the internet negatively affects the brain. Long ago, humans carried clubs and we watched fire for entertainment. Now, we click through websites without a second thought about whether our behavior is natural. The fact is, our brains are changing permanently because of technology and the internet. In a study performed on twenty social networking sites of addicted users, through the use of MRI’s it was shown that there are physical differences in the brains of addicted social networkers (He, Turel and Bechara). These differences are similar to brain anatomy alterations seen in other addictions—the cortex is impaired, and is does not regulate one’s inhibitions (He, Turel and Bechara). There is a reduction in gray matter which is evidence that one’s brain morphology is susceptible to anatomical changes based on one’s behaviors (Becker; He, Turel and Bechara).
The internet also affects the way that we learn and the way that we are taught. In a peer reviewed article, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, the author explores the effects of the changes that the internet has brought upon the youth. In this article it is evident that: “The way adolescents of today learn, play, and interact has changed more in the past 15 years than in the previous 570 since Gutenberg’s popularization of the printing press” (Giedd). Therefore, the internet has changed not only the brain’s anatomical structure, but we have changed the processes by which the brain learns. These physical changes bring with them other changes. The overall impact is that our brains are morphing into something different, and this anatomical change threatens the continuity of life as we know it.
How the internet negatively affects social behavior. As stated above, the internet has changed the way that we learn. In the same manner, the internet has changed the way that we interact with one another. Social media is one example of the changes that the internet has brought about. Online shopping versus in-store shopping is another way that the internet has changed the way that we go about our social behavior. It seems that the internet has expanded one’s possibilities to make connections with other people on social networking, however, in this author’s opinion, the trade-off is that there is a loss of “real” relationships.
For the children who are now growing up on the internet, the statistics are alarming just how much time is spent online: “8- to 18-year-olds spend more time with media than in any other activity besides (maybe) sleeping” (Becker). This means that there is no possibility for normal social interactions because of the life that the internet displaces. By being online, kids are not doing offline activities with their real friends and family. Socially, people are awkward in person, but polished online. A social networking profile is one that interests people because the human mind is wired biologically to survive off of social interactions (Giedd).
How the internet negatively affects our psychological states. The study on the “paradigm shift” (Becker) in the mental health of university students in 1992 versus now reveals that there are significant changes in the way that we think and feel because of the internet. According to the Spartan Youth website, there are trends in college mental health which include a prevalence of severe psychological disorders (Becker). In fact, the prevalence of these disorders has tripled since the inception of the study in 1992 (Becker). These types of statistics are disturbing, because it seems that society would stop self-destructive behavior. However, it is impossible to stop the forward momentum of technology.
There has been an increase in hospitalizations and in the prescription medicine consumption (Becker). Suicide rates, and stress rates are higher than ever before: “The average American is exposed to a 350% increase in total information outside of work than the average amount they experienced only 30 years ago” (Becker). Technology is stressing us out, depressing us, and isolating us. The psychological downfall of the internet is that our psychology has changed because we no longer have the same social structure, and our brains are physically changing. Lastly, the internet has changed our psychology because there is a reliance upon an external support system, such as Facebook, or Wikipedia, that replaces old avenues of communications, such as friends, or the library.
A positive defense of how the internet has improved us. The internet has indeed expanded our horizons. Information is at our fingertips and friends are bountiful. The internet has created opportunities for people who would otherwise not have access to resources: online shopping to online school has leveled the playing field to help create a more equal society. And furthermore, those who defend the internet argue that the cause and effect variables are difficult to tell apart: “Facebook and self-esteem may be related in terms of Facebook usage, causing lower self-esteem, but this may also mean that people with low self-esteem use Facebook more often” (Pantic). The internet should not be blamed for pre-existing conditions. The internet is something that exists in order to help human existence, not hurt it.
The arguments are compelling for why it might be possible that the internet has helped to improve society; however, the permanent trade-off is an evolutionary one. Technology is now involved in our human evolution. Our brain structure is changing, our social skills are changing, and our psychology has changed. This is not to say it has improved—the only thing that we know at this point is that we have most certainly reached a juncture where it is clear that we are departing from traditional human existence and entering a new phase of human existence. The trade-off seems to be too accelerated; in the course of our evolution, we have never evolved at such a fast rate. Therefore, the internet has impacted the way that we exist as humans—from the way that our brains operate to our social interactions and psychological states—this alteration is too much, too fast. The internet has some positive attributes, however, given the evidence presented above, it should be clear that the trade-off is not worth it.
- Becker, Scott. “This Is Your Brain Online: The Impact of Technology on Mental Health.” Spartan Youth, 2015, spartanyouth.msu.edu/precollege/documents/ThisisyourbrainonlineforPre-CollegeFacultyandStaffMarch2015.pdf. Accessed 6 Dec. 2017.
- Giedd, Jay N. “The Digital Revolution and Adolescent Brain Evolution.” The Journal of Adolescent Health: Official Publication of The Society for Adolescent Medicine 51(2), 2012, doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2012.06.002. Accessed 6 Dec. 2017.
- He, Qinghua, Turel, Ofir, and Antoine Bechara. “Brain Anatomy Alterations Associated with Social Networking (SNS) Addiction.” Scientific Reports, 23 Mar. 2017, DOI: 10.1038/srep45064
- Pantic, Igor. “Online Social Networking and Mental Health.” Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking 17(10), 2014, doi: 10.1089/cyber.2014.0070. Accessed 6 Dec. 2017.