Say Duh? How the Internets is Making Us Dumber


We are all so hyper-connected now that our emails, Facebook posts, and Tweets are buzzed straight to our pockets in real time, and the cognitive side effects of this instant messaging world are making us less active, changing the way our brains store and process our memories.

British researchers have found that checking your emails consistently is more harmful to your IQ than smoking pot. As someone who is on the straighter, narrower side of life, I am particularly offended by this survey's results because I tend to have both my personal and professional email accounts open all day long. After reading the study, which states the damage of checking messages and juggling work amounts to a 10 point drop in IQ, (equal to missing a whole night's sleep), I decided to test myself by closing out both email windows and focusing on the task at hand.

Within minutes I felt an anxiety creeping up in me, wanting to abandon whatever boring thing I had to do in exchange for the hope of a new email with something exciting instead. As the anxiety grew, I saw myself mindlessly typing in in my browser without even realizing it, then spent several minutes calmed by mundane updates from the people in my news feed. 

This is a common enough experience that is a symptom of internet dependency, and it is harming our productivity. Researchers have found that people use Facebook as a passive form of entertainment and are "amusing ourselves to death." We are constantly searching for instant gratification in the form of a funny video or interesting article shared by our friends, but those do not lead to meaningful action.

The shift in priority from getting your work done to being entertained is clearly affecting the way we go about our daily lives; why else would a man have to hire someone to slap him everytime he went on social media instead of doing his work? That guy found that extreme tactic increased his productivity from 35-40% to 98%. Applications like Rescue Time and Focus Booster have been created to be the non-slapping ways of increasing your productivity. You can even download an application called Self Control that blocks certain websites for periods of time while you work online. 

Being less productive because of the immediacy of the internet is one problem, but researchers are studying whether it is changing who we are. Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, director of the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford, questions whether increased storage amounts in email and large Facebook or Flickr albums are making us change the way we form and store memories:

"If you can’t forget because all this stuff is staring at you, what does that do to your ability to lay down new memories and remember things that you should be remembering? ... When you have 500 pictures from your vacation in your Flickr account, as opposed to five pictures that are really meaningful, does that change your ability to recall the moments that you really want to recall?"

The more intricately social media and the internet as a whole is woven into our daily life, the more we will find our ways of interacting with ourself change. However, the temptation of instant entertainment, like all vices, can be controlled to allow for enough productivity to sustain healthy lives. What will be far more interesting to watch is if the instant access to information as a whole does in fact change the way our brain processes information. For now, I am going to try just keeping those email and Facebook windows closed to do enough work to feel justified to take another hit of Kid President videos.