The first I read about the internet having the capacity to alter your brain was an article in Newsweek – Reading This Will Change Your Brain.
Nicholas Carr had a book out in September 2010, The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, and the PR included Is Google Making Us Stupid? an article in The Atlantic (later rehashed behind The Times’ paywall) stating such gems as:
“Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing.”
It is the headline that appeared to garner the most attention, which seems somewhat unfair given that the scope of the book purports to cover various information technologies and the neurological overheads they demand. This is not just about the article I remember reading about how brainwaves in those using the web change after a short while of training. This is about a claim that “what we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection.”
My favourite refutation of the claims comes from John Graham-Cumming, who simply blames the diminishing attention span on getting old.
My personal refutation however is more along the lines of “how ridiculously flawed is your premise?” Observing the difference between brain activity during “web searching” and reading text, in both internet-savvy participants and web virgins showed a larger difference in brain activity in those who had previously used the web. No shit sherlock – people used to a task approach it differently to those who don’t know what they are doing. What can this little gem teach us about how using the internet is changing us? Oh, nothing. As you were.
Brain plasticity: Norman Doidge