It is easy to make jokes now about how rudimentary life was back in the 80s and early 90s, about the changes that the world has had since then, and mostly on the telecommunications and IT domains. I remember 20 years ago, when the Internet wasn’t yet widely available to everyone, mobile phones were large bricks used by a tiny fraction of the people. We don’t need to go that far to find a world where no Google, Facebook or LinkedIn even existed – and yet these are just a few examples of brands and services amongst the most used and valued in the world today.
For a large part of the population the Internet has changed the whole paradigm of how we spend our time, what we can do from home and what needs to be done outside, how we communicate with friends, relatives, and even strangers. How we live really!
The amount of time spent online keeps increasing to a point that it has already surpassed the TV sofa addicts. The available time in a day remains unchanged, therefore it is no surprise that the more time people spend on the internet, the less they spend doing other things (all those that were done 20 years ago when internet wasn’t available to the general population). Why does this happen and what can explain this increasing addiction to the Internet?
CNN reports today that David Levy, a professor with the Information School at the University of Washington, calls this syndrome the “popcorn brain”. Our brains are so used to a constant stimulation, multitasking, speed and quantity of new content available online, that the life outside the net appears to be less and less suitable for this fast pace. It becomes boring.
Three important reasons contribute to this syndrome: the instant gratification, (or short-term benefit), the fast pace, and the unpredictability of technology. Facebook is a good example of those three involving constant interactions with friends, and the growth of smartphones is taking the “popcorn brain” syndrome everywhere, providing a constant stimulation that activates dopamine cells in the nucleus accumbens, responsible for the main pleasure center of the brain.
Over time, our brain adapts to the continuous new lifestyle. A qualitative scientific research in China, published in June in the PLoS ONE online journal, has given insights that too much time spent online can actually physically change the brain, reducing the gray matter and therefore limiting the thinking part of the brain.
As always, the solutions to avoid this are quite simple and obvious. There should be a better online-offline balance, self imposition of limits for the internet use, and challenge the brain to avoid these negative effects. In fact, since time online is an addiction, the best use for that time is a good brain training program!