What Makes Internet Users Unique

The invention of the Internet has manifested itself as a societal force previously untapped by other generations, but what does it hold in store for we gineauĀ pigs?

Some believe that the Internet is in many respects holding back humans from achieving pre-Internet cognitive ability. Oxford neurobiologist Susan Greenfield has made numerous claims about internet use leading to autism and social media use harming children’s brains.

Others dispute Greenfield’s claims and those like it, claiming that they are overwrought pseudo-science meant to cover up a very conservative fear of the new. University College London psychologist Vaughan Bell is among this camp and responded to the question “What is your beef with Susan Greenfield and her science?” with: “Up to date, there is no science to speak of.”

Greenfield has apparently refused to publish her work in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, making it impossible for other scientists to scrutinize.

“Greenfield claims that social networking sites could negatively affect social interaction, interpersonal empathy, and personal identity,” Bell’s criticism begins. “However, the bulk of research does not support this characterization. With regard to social interaction and empathy, adolescents’ use of social networking sites has been found to enhance existing friendships and the quality of relationships, although some individuals benefit more than others. The general finding is that those who use social networks to avoid social difficulties have reduced wellbeing, while use of social networks to deal with social challenges improves outcomes.”

internet brain2The old, it-depends-how-you-use-it standby does seem to hold for the internet and its affect on human health and the human mind.

Other criticisms of internet brain include that search engines have made it so that people no longer have to memorize facts, making their memory abilities slowly weaken through lack of use.

Bell and his team don’t buy that one either, claiming that “this effect applies to many situations and is not restricted to the use of technology; for instance, people who work in teams.”

Bell ascribes Greenfield’s position as one that has been historically taken in reaction to new technology. He compares her fear of the effect of technology to the fear of Conrad Gessner, a 16th century writer that was concerned that the printing press’s mass distribution of books would end up harming the mind.

Both teams do concede that more information must be done before we can come to any conclusions:

social media“We need to recognize that the use of the internet and digital technology has cognitive and social benefits and to balance these against any risks,” Bell and his colleagues wrote in their paper.

Unfortunately we likely won’t know the true benefits and adverse effects of the internet until that data is collected, and, perhaps even more frighteningly, that data is being made right now. Children are are exposed to more screen time than ever, and millennials and older generations seem to have accepted that their job will likely involve looking at a computer screen all day. What happens to our bodies and minds as a result is yet to be seen.

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