When Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic Monthly cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?
Your social media habits may be changing your brain and your behaviors.
With social media sites being used by 1/3 of the entire world, they’ve clearly had a major influence in society.
But what about our bodies?
Here are 5 crazy ways that social media and the internet are affecting your brain right now!
Can’t log off??
Surprisingly, 5-10% of internet users are actually unable to control how much time they spend online. Though it’s a psychological addiction as opposed to a substance addiction, brain scans of these people actually show a similar impairment of regions that those with drug dependence have.
- Specifically, there is a clear degradation of white matter in the regions that control emotional processing, attention and decision making. Because social media provides immediate rewards with very little effort required, your brain begin to rewire itself, making you desire these stimulations. And you begin to crave more of this neurological excitement after each interaction. Sounds a little like a drug.
- We also see a shift when looking at multi-tasking. You might think that those who use social media or constantly switch between work and websites are better at multitasking, but studies have found that when comparing heavy media users to others, they perform much worse during task switching tests. Increased multi-tasking online reduces your brains ability to filter our interferences, and can even make it harder for your brain to commit information to memory. Like when your phone buzzes in the middle of a productive work. Or wait…did it even buzz.
- Phantom Vibration Syndrome is a relatively new psychological phenomenon where you think you felt your phone go off, but it didn’t. In one study, 89% of tests subjects said they experienced this at least once every two weeks. It would seem that our brains now perceive an itch as an actual vibration from our phone. As crazy as it seems, technology has begun to rewire our nervous systems–and our brains are being triggered in a way they never have been before in history.
- Social media also triggers a release of dopamine –the feel good chemical. Using MRI scans, scientists found that the reward centres in people’s brains are much more active when they are talking about their own views, as opposed to listening to others. Not so surprising–we all love talking about ourselves, right?
- But it turns out that while 30-40% of face-to-face conversations involve communicating our own experiences, around 80% of social media communication is self involved. The same part of of your brain related to orgasms, motivation and love are stimulated by your social media use –and even more so when you know you have an audience. Our body is physiologically rewarding us for talking about ourselves online! But it’s not all so self involved.
- In fact, studies on relationships have found that partners tend to like each other more if they meet for the first time online rather than with a face to face interaction. Whether it’s because people are more anonymous or perhaps more clear about their future goals, there is a statistical increase in successful partnerships that started online.
So while the internet has changed our verbal communication with increased physical separation, perhaps the ones that matter most end up even closer.
Complement it with How the internet enables intimacy.