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Does Using Google Make Us Stupid?

March 12, 2011

On my desk I have a dictionary and a thesaurus. Our offices at GAI (www.gunwel.com) are a big open space where we all sit facing each other and often times I’ll say “someone give me a word for…” (as I’m too lazy to open the thesaurus) and instead of someone just giving me a word or phrase you hear …tap, tap, tap of the keys as they google for a word or phrase. The internet is changing our brains. Neurologists and psychologists have discovered that our brains process Internet pages differently than they do printed pages. That can affect how much we learn when we read – and even alter our brains themselves.

The human brain “rewires” itself depending on how it is used, an ability neurologists refer to as “plasticity.” Apparently spending one hour per day on the internet for just one week alters our neural pathways. The neural rewiring could have unfortunate consequences. For the past five centuries, reading books has helped train human brains to concentrate intently over extended periods of time, an ability that has helped our species produces ideas and inventions. If we abandon books in favor of the Internet, our ability to maintain focus and think up new ideas might diminish. Here are other consequences of Internet use and what we can do about them…

  • Interruption System: When we read online, words are not the only information coming at us. There usually eye-catching advertisements alongside the text and hyperlinks in the text in case we wish to jump to different Web pages on related topics. We might have our e-mail program open and a Facebook feed, too, alerting us each time a new message arrives. Even when a printed book is transferred to an electronic device connected to the Internet, it turns into something very much like a Web site, with links and other digital enhancements. These distractions don’t just slow our reading, they also make it less likely that we will understand and retain new knowledge. What to do: When you wish to give your full attention to online or eReader text, close your e-mail program, your Facebook page and other competing information feeds on the screen. Also, use software settings that minimize interruptions.
  • Less is read: The Internet puts more information than ever at our fingertips – yet evidence suggests that it actually leads us to read and rely upon a smaller set of information resources, encouraging uncreative group thinking. The trouble is that the Internet does not just provide information. It also subtly evaluates it for us. Search engines typically sort their results in order of popularity, and few if us scan past the first page of results. What to do:  So scan beyond the first page of results when you use a search engine to explore a topic of interest. This at least gives you a chance to learn more than what almost everyone else interested in the topic already knows. When an Internet search for a piece of information leads you to a compelling article, book or Web site, jot down its name, then explore it more fully when you have more time.
  • Less Social Intelligence: The Internet is no longer confined to our desktops. E-readers, smartphones and even vehicle dashboards increasingly allow us to bring the online world wherever we go – a trend that will accelerate in the years ahead. The danger of digital distractions while driving already is well publicized. Less discussed is the potential danger that such portable distractions pose while we’re just sitting around with friends or loved ones. The distractions created by the use of mobile Internet devices make it less likely that we will fully grasp the psychological states of other people’s moods, the less able we are to show appropriate empathy, weakening the bonds that hold together human communities, families and friendships. What to do: Turn off digital devices when you spend time with others…nuff said.

And for my part in writing this blog the only hyperlinks that I’m going to put in here are those to my website. I don’t want you to be distracted!  Gunwel Tax & Bookkeeping Service is very tuned into the social networking aspect of business, yet when you are our client and we are meeting with your or working on your tax returns or books…we are fully concentrating on you. We are 100% present. We love what we do and our clients love our results. We’d love to hear your thoughts on what the Internet has done to your brain…Give us a call at 212-979-6830 or stop by for a visit. See you soon!

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