Unplug 101: Is the internet driving you mad?

Unplug 101: Is the internet driving you mad?

Have you ever thought about just getting away, and, dare I say, unplugging yourself from everything?

We are constantly on the move; we are on our smartphones, tablets, laptops, and sometimes, we even fire up our desktops. The question we need to be asking is what is all of this connection doing to us?

According to numerous studies conducted in more than a dozen different countries, it is definitely not all good. On average we spend half our waking hours looking at a computer screen, and The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has added “Internet Addiction Disorder” to its list of disorders (Dokoupil, 2012).

In 2006, one in eight individuals showed an unhealthy attachment to the internet (Dokoupil, 2012). That was before Steve Jobs introduced the world to the iPhone!

In the summer 2012, Newsweek ran a cover story titled “Is the Onslaught Making Us Crazy?”  It chronicled the overloaded screen time that each of us faces on a daily basis.  And that was in 2012. Just think about how much has changed since 2012.

The irony of this is not lost on me.  As I write this article (on my computer) warning about the hazards of the internet, you are reading this article via the internet.  The world wide web is a great resource, but we need to find that proper balance.

In my personal life, I have definitely found there are challenges with the age of the internet and trying to raise a family. My husband and I have stayed on the cautious side – we were the last to buy our kids phones; we still have “parental controls” turned on for our teenagers; we know their passwords; we read their text messages. But it is tough. Our whole family is screen-time heavy, and I do worry about the dangers and potential psychological damage pointed out in the Newsweek article.

“The computer is like electronic cocaine,” says Neuroscientist Peter Whybrow (as cited by Dokoupil, 2012).

“The internet ‘leads to behavior that people are conscious is not in their best interest and does leave them anxious and does make them act compulsively,’” says Nicholas Carr author of the Pulitzer nominated book The Shallows, about the web’s effect on cognition (as cited by Dokoupil, 2012).

According to the Newsweek article:

“The brains of Internet addicts, it turns out, look like the brains of drug and alcohol addicts. In a study published in January, Chinese researchers found ‘abnormal white matter’—essentially extra nerve cells built for speed—in the areas charged with attention, control, and executive function. A parallel study found similar changes in the brains of videogame addicts. And both studies come on the heels of other Chinese results that link Internet addiction to ‘structural abnormalities in gray matter,’ namely shrinkage of 10 to 20 percent in the area of the brain responsible for processing of speech, memory, motor control, emotion, sensory, and other information. And worse, the shrinkage never stopped: the more time online, the more the brain showed signs of ‘atrophy’” (Small, 2008 as cited by Dokoupil, 2012).

I have heard my colleagues and extended family joke about how family time is everyone sitting in the living room on their laptops, and they talk to each other through Facebook rather than turning to the person sitting right next to them. I think we need to be cognizant of the advantages of technologies, but also the disadvantages.

I am reminded of the television commercial in the 80’s/90’s about drugs. It was the one where all you see is the egg being cracked and then fried on the stove: “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?” (Partnership for a Drug Free America).  The next public service announcement should be:

“This is your brain. This is brain on the internet. Any questions?”

Reference:

Dokoupil, T. (2012, July 16). Is the onslaught making us crazy: What the new research says? Newsweek. Retrieved from:

http://www.newsweek.com/internet-making-us-crazy-what-new-research-says-65593

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