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Don't Fear the Internet: It's Not Stealing Your Attention, Memory, or Life

One doesn't need to look for too long on, ahem, the Internet to learn that the Internet is stealing your attention, your memory, and your life. But this fear misunderstands how we have historically integrated technology into the fabric of society. Each wave of new technology has drawn criticism for changing cultural norms. The telephone was first considered a gossip machine used by housewives; the car, an absurd luxury that would only interest the super-wealthy. The rest, they say, is history.

It is true that using the Internet "rewires" the brain, but just about anything does. Neuroscientists now understand that the brain is a highly plastic organ, meaning it adjusts to and accommodates new incoming information. If we are afraid to change the way our brain functions, then the massive social efforts spent on teaching children to read (attending classes five days a week for many years) should also be suspect. In reality, the popularity of new technology demonstrates our ability to thrive under novel and different conditions.

Nor is technology turning everyone into a vain narcissist. In a series of experiments, communications scholar Keith Hampton obtained films taken in public spaces during the '70s and '80s. Their hypothesis that the use of public spaces had declined as a result of personal technology proved false. What's more, more people spend time in groups while in public than in past decades. Mere pieces of metal and plastic cannot suddenly remove individuals from their deep need of social interaction.

Read more at the Boston Review

Photo credit: Shutterstock

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