The effects of the internet on people’s ability for deep thought and extended contemplation

Introduction

The current generation has been born in a digital world where the internet is the place where they get all the information. The younger generation is enjoying the internet that has come with the technological changes of the 21st century. Most of the young individuals are growing up hyper-connected to one another via the internet.

This is where they communicate through the various social networks and access information that include those concerning their class work. This has seen some individuals opt to visit the internet rather than sit down in a library and read a book. The internet is a place where the present generation relies for solace but the effects in the future may not be promising.

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The World Wide Web has been relied upon for various types of information including scholarly information, news, weather forecast, and social interaction, among many other uses. Social networks include Facebook and Twitter (Gladwell, 2010). These are places where people chat and share information including texts, photos and videos (Anderson & Wolff, 2010). This has increased efficiency in communication and sharing of information and has been taken as a positive attribute, courtesy of technology.

This reliance on the internet has had various effects including both positive and negative ones but the actual effect in the long run is of major concern. Various experts and analysts have provided their views on the issue and the facts are staggering.

Some literature provides arguments that suggest that the internet may take a toll on people’s ability for deep thought and extended contemplation. This is due to some of the habits that people develop as they get used to getting information from the internet as opposed to getting it from books or other printouts.

The main purpose of this research paper is to investigate the effects of the internet on people’s ability for deep thought and extended contemplation. Various sources will be consulted in order to get the views of the various authors and analysts concerning the subject. The paper will also narrow down to determine how the internet affects the various aspects of the reasoning ability of the human. This would bring insight on the exact effects of the internet.

Literature review

Germano (2012) had observed the current trends in the education system and was astonished by the way scholars do their reading and research. He wondered why scholars used books less often than in the past. In the past, they had always relied on books as their source of information but many changes have occurred lately since many of them now rely on the internet for information.

Some researchers (neuroscientists) discovered that there was a difference in the brain structure of individuals who had different social behaviour on the social networks such as Facebook. They suggested that those who had many friends in the social network had denser grey matter is particular regions of their brains (Fleming, 2011).

This observation could mean one of two things. Firstly, it could be that the social networks changed the portions of the brain. Alternatively, it could mean that those people born with those types of brains behaved differently on such social sites. It was impossible to point out which of the two was the case. However, the difference in the brain structure showed a difference in the interactions (number of connections).

The effects of the sites on the structure and functioning of the brain depends on whether the social sites have enabled people to communicate in ways that are very different from the form of communication and interaction that was possible before.

This would help to explain whether the internet is altering the structure and functionality of the brain or influencing the ways in which individuals interact with others. Future studies with advanced scanners would be able to determine whether the social networks facilitate the changes in the brain structure or whether the differences in the brain structure determine the differences in social skills.

The Pew Research Center conducted a research survey to determine what the future of the internet held (Anderson & Rainie, 2012). Various stakeholders and technology experts had different perspectives about the future of the younger generation. They claimed that the younger generation relied a lot on the internet as their external brain. They suggested that this would have some positive outcomes such as rendering the youngsters as quick-acting multitaskers. According to their understanding, this would do well in various respects.

On the same note, however, they pointed out some of the negative effects that the internet could have on the generation. They argued that the internet drives the individuals for instant gratification. This would develop behaviour such as settling for quick choices. This would also mean a lack of patience as individuals seek for quick answers. Despite the importance of the current education system embracing digital literacy, there is a danger of the possibility of entertaining distractions. Various schools have introduced the use of laptops in the classrooms. This was in an attempt to embrace technology and facilitate learning. However, this attempt increases the chances of distractions as students engage in things such as online gaming and chatting during class time. This decreases the concentration of the students and may negatively affect their grades.

The critics and technology stakeholders chosen as the respondents to the survey provided their take on the issue of the effects of the internet. This was to determine whether the internet had an overall positive or negative effect on the younger generation. Fifty five percent of the respondents argued that there would be a general positive outcome resulting from the continuous use of the internet.

They said that the younger generation would not suffer cognitive shortcomings. Blair and Burton also supported these findings in their study (Blair & Burton, 1987). This is because they would develop skills on multitasking. They also argued that they would be able to function more quickly when it comes to personal tasks and other work-related activities.

Another positive aspect is that they are able to learn more and have the ability to find answers to deeper questions. This is mostly because of the ability to research effectively. The internet would enable them to access varied information that enhances collective intelligence (Igbaria & Iivari, (1995). In other words, these respondents argued that the internet produced positive results for learning behaviour and cognition among the younger generation.

Forty two percent of the respondents argued that the use of the internet by the younger generation would yield negative outcomes generally. They argued that their brains deteriorate over time and they lack the ability to retain information. They argued that these individuals spend most of their energy chatting and being entertained over the internet.

Consequently, these distractions cause them to interact less deeply with people and knowledge. Furthermore, they argued that these individuals did not have deep-thinking abilities. Due to the use of social sites to interact with people, these individuals lacked the face-to-face social skills, which could not be developed over such interactions over the internet.

Nicholas Carr also expressed his concerns about the negative effects of the internet in his book. ‘The shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains’ provide a vivid explanation of some of Carr’s fears concerning the future of the internet users. The author argues that the internet has a deteriorative effect on some regions of the brain.

These regions of the brain are responsible deep thought and extended contemplation. The deterioration (downsizing) of these regions means that these functions of the brain are affected adversely.

Carr explains how the internet provides many chances for distractions. Many critics agree with him when he says that an individual using the internet to search information would skip from hyperlink to hyperlink. This way the person avoids long and difficult articles, which could actually have valuable information.

The author argued that this continuous behaviour has a deeper effect in the long run. This is evident when the thinking patterns are altered. Carr also argues that over dependence on the internet leads to a decrease in the interest in reading books.

However, Nate Kornell and Sam Kornell discredit this idea. They argue that the fact that one would prefer to use the internet other than a book does not mean that the internet has had a negative effect on the person’s reasoning or mental ability (Kornell & Kornell, 2010).

They argue that one could actually prefer to use the internet due to convenience only. This is to mean that one might prefer to use the internet due to the ease at which unlimited information could be gathered as compared to the use of books. In addition to the diverse information in the internet, the individual may also benefit from other services such as emailing services and other entertainment options. These authors try to emphasise that the option is purely for convenience sake.

They argue that this psychological phenomenon is referred to as confirmation bias. This is a problem in human judgment and decision-making. It occurs when one develops a particular attitude and makes what was not the case into something that one had perceived it to be.

In this case, the authors argued that when one starts to believe that the internet makes one dumber (as Carr suggested), then one would start to find evidences that suggest that it actually does that. In other words, they were arguing that the internet does not make one dumb but it is just the attitudes and beliefs that the people have that make them to find reason to think so.

The authors further provide evidence from the study done by some neuroscientist at the University of California. They concluded that using the internet to search for information caused an increase in brain activity as compared to finding information from a book. Therefore, they argue that Carr was wrong to argue that the internet was bad for the neural circuitry.

The survey by the Pew Research Center came up with some of the desirable life skills for the younger generations in the near future. One of the skills included crowd-sourcing solutions. This includes public problem-solving skills through cooperative work. The other skill is the ability to do effective search using the internet and being able to determine which information is of high quality.

This is what was referred to as digital literacy. Other skills included those of increased concentration and the ability to select the desired information from the sea of information over the internet.

Suhail and Bargees (2006) investigated the positive and negative effects of excessive use of the internet among the undergraduates. They used the Internet Effect Scale for the study. They investigated various dimensions including the educational problems, physical issues, psychological issues, behavioural issues and possible positive effects.

They concluded that when the internet was used excessively, it negatively affected the education of the students. It also led to physical and psychological problems. There was also evidence to prove that excessive use of the internet led to problems concerning interpersonal skills among the undergraduate students.

In contrast, however, some students showed positive outcomes when it came to the excessive use of the internet. In conclusion, the authors suggested that the internet should be used within reasonable limits. This use should also focus on activities that enhance the person’s productivity since not all activities are productive.

Teo, Lim and Lai (1999) the use of the internet (system), which is easier to use, requires less effort to perform several tasks. This is to mean that one is able to do more work since there is an increase in the frequency of use of the system. Therefore, when one uses the internet, one is able to accomplish more work than one would be able to do without (research using a book).

They also argued that the perceived enjoyment had a significant effect on the frequency of internet usage. In other words, the computer was interesting to use and therefore one could use the internet more frequently.

This means that the enjoyment perceived from the use of the internet (and computer) enables one to gain more from the internet. Therefore, it increases concentration since one is able to perform a certain task longer due to the interest in the activity.

Wegner, Ken and Garton (1999) conducted a study to investigate the effects of internet-based instruction on the student’s learning. He explored the use of the internet for distance learning and compared the results for two semesters. Although there was no significant difference in the results, the ones who did not used the internet during learning but stayed in class gained skills such as consensus building skills, communication skills and that they exercised autonomous learning as a group.

Methods

For this research, both secondary sources of information and primary sources were used for data collection. A wide range of literature (secondary sources) on the subject of internet usage was consulted. Various journal articles were reviewed in order to get the authors views on the issue and the results they obtained from their study.

Various scholarly websites and books were also used. The primary source of information was from the use of in-depth interviews. Due to the limited amount of time allocated for the study, a small sample was used. Thirty students were randomly selected from different areas. From this number, there were those who confessed to be frequent users of the internet and some preferred to use textbooks instead.

The ones who used internet a lot formed the experimental group while those who did not use it formed the control group. They were interviewed in order to get their views and evidences of the effects of the internet on their ability for deep thought and extended contemplation. In order to get this information, the students were asked several questions. The effects that the internet had on their reasoning ability were assessed.

For data analysis, the information collected from the in-depth interviews were analysed using Microsoft Excel. This is where the data was manipulated into percentages in order to make interpretation easier. As for the secondary sources, the ideas that supported the null hypothesis were compared against those that supported the alternative hypothesis.

Findings

From the in-depth interview, the students were asked whether the use of the internet over time decreased the desire for the use of books for research. Out of the total, 90% (27 students) agreed that they no longer saw the need to use textbook since literally, everything could be found in the internet and with much ease.

The overwhelming number of students who reported that they relied entirely on the internet for information as opposed to the use of textbooks showed a dependency on the internet. This was because of the relative ease at which the information was received in the comfort of their beds (as some of them reported). This may suggest that the students find the need for instant gratification just as Anderson and Rainie (2012) suggested.

The students also confirmed that this overdependence on the internet made them to be shallow thinkers since they could not reason out as effectively as they did before. Whenever they were given assignments, they just searched for the information from the internet and included information that they found.

They did not reason out before attempting the assignments. As the interviews proceeded, the students also revealed that they did not waste their brains trying to get answers. Google did it for them. Just as Anderson and Rainie (2012), the internet had become their external brain. This shows that the internet had had a negative effect on the students’ ability for deep thought and extended contemplation.

When asked whether they experienced difficulty while attempting questions that required reasoning, 63% (19 students) of the experimental group (those who used the internet) reported that they experienced difficulty. Some of them suggested that this was because they were used to looking up everything in the internet for quick answers.

They said that they did not feel like they had the ability to stay focused on the question long enough to understand it and provide a reasonable answer. This supports the work by Anderson and Rainie since they argued that the need for instant gratification settled for quick choices and hence made the wrong decisions.

They also showed some lack of patients, just as the authors argued. The students were used to getting instant answers and in an exam situation, they did not want to spend a lot of time thinking and reasoning out for answers. This also shows some negative effect of the internet in the ability to reason effectively.

Thirty-three percent (10 students) of the respondents believed that there was no difficulty encountered while understanding the questions and answering them. However, they argued that they could not maintain the same concentration throughout the paper. This shows a lack of patience and a need for instant gratification, just as the authors had argued.

From the literature, it was found that there are several negative effects of the internet on the ability for deep thought and extended contemplation in people. It was argued that argued that their brains deteriorate over time and they lack the ability to retain information.

This could be in the form of short memory. This shows a negative effect in that people would not have the ability to retain whatever information they have acquired. Authors have also argued that the individuals who rely on the internet a lot spend most of their energy chatting and being entertained over the internet. Consequently, these distractions cause them to interact less deeply with people and knowledge. This shows a negative effect on the interpersonal skills.

Due to the use of social sites to interact with people, these individuals lacked the face-to-face social skills, which could not be developed over such interactions over the internet. Furthermore, they argued that these individuals did not have deep-thinking abilities. This is evidence of the negative effects of the internet on people’s ability to reason and contemplate.

Research has also shown that excessive use of the internet has negative effects on the education of students. More effects that are negative include those that affect the person physically and psychologically. The evidence proved that excessive use of the internet led to problems concerning interpersonal skills among the undergraduate students.

Over reliance of the internet for communication eliminates the need for physical contact or face-to-face conversation. This is because the persons only need to have an access to a computer or a smart phone. They would then use them to log into their social accounts and chat or sent texts and in other cases use video calls.

This form of communication is limiting in terms of the use of interpersonal skills. This is because the persons are not able to read the emotions of the other person since this is only possible if you are with the person you are communicating with. Such individuals have been determined to be less social when it comes to face-to-face communication.

Conclusion

The current generation is an internet generation. Many individuals are using the internet more than before. The uses of the internet range from academic use to entertainment. Several critics and researchers have argues for and against the usefulness of the internet. Some argue that the internet has a negative effect on people’s ability for deep thought and extended contemplation. Some argue that it has a positive effect.

For this research, however, it has been determined that internet use has a negative effect on the reasoning ability and leads to quick answers that are wrong in most cases. It has also been determined that those who are used to using the internet develop dependency and do not see the need to use books.

However, there were several limitations to this study including the scope and the sample size was quite small. Therefore, further research is required. Further research is also required in order to investigate and understand the effect of the internet and concentration levels.

References

Anderson, C., & Wolff, M. (2010). The web is dead: Long lived the internet. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1

Anderson, Q., & Rainie, L. (2012). Millennials will benefit and suffer due to their hyperconnected lives. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org//media//files/reports/2012.PIP_Future_of_Internet_2012_Young_brains_PDF.pdf

Blair, E., & Burton, S. (1987). Cognitive process used by survey respondents to answer behavioural frequency questions. Journal of Consumer Research, 14(1), 208-288.

Fleming, N. (2011). Facebook friend tally is associated with difference in brain structure. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2011/oct/19/facebook-friend-differences-brain-structure

Germano, W. (2010). What are books good for? The Chronic Review. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/What-Are-Books-Good-For-/124563

Gladwell, M. (2010). Why the revolution will not be tweeted. Retrieved from http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/04/101004fa_fact_gladwell?currentPage=all

Igbaria, M., & Iivari, J. (1995). The effects of self-efficacy on computer usage. International Journal of Management Science, 23(6), 587-605.

Kornell, N., & Kornell, S. (2010). Information superhighway just vapid transit. Retrieved from http://www.psmag.com/media/information-superhighway-just-vapid-transit-20917/

Teo, T., Lim, V., & Lai, R. (1999). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in internet usage. The International Journal of Management Science, 27(1), 25-37.

Wegner, S., & Ken, C., & Garton, E. (1999). The effects of internet-based instruction on student learning. JALN, 3(2), 98-106.

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