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The internet is affecting the way people think. Learn and talk about some ways to control how you use the internet and to stop the internet from controlling you.
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Most of us are on the internet daily, and whether we like it or not, the internet is affecting us. It changes how we think, how we work, and it even changes our brains.

[Related: Study Less, Study Smart]

The Internet Is Making Us Shallow

Have you ever been reading an article or doing work on your computer when a social media notification or message pops up? You turn to answer the message or read the notification and find that it’s a link to a funny video, which you go to. Five minutes later, you’re now interested in the topic of the video that was shared with you, which you’re now sharing on your profile. Another five minutes are gone, and what were you even doing in the first place?

You’ve probably experienced something similar to this at some point, and it may even be a regular occurrence in your life. Social media has a way of distracting and redirecting our attention because our brains are designed to reward us when we seek out and engage with new information – and nothing ever in human history has been so information-rich as the internet.

What this creates is a constant sense of distraction. No one thing ever gets our full attention because the internet is training us to prepare for new information and our brains are rewarding us for following the rabbit trails.

[Related: How Social Networks Can Ruin Teens]


The problem with being perpetually distracted is we’re never able to attain to more contemplative, calmer modes of thinking. This calm thinking is how we learn in a process called “memory consolidation.” To truly learn something, information has to move from our short-term memory to our long-term memory, but for this to happen, our minds must be calm, clear, and distraction-free. With phone calls, text messages, and social media apps constantly bombarding us for our attention, we don’t enter this chilled-out state of mind. This means information isn’t moving from short-term to long-term memory, and it means that we aren’t learning as much…at least not about important things. Yikes!

The Good Life

If the sum total of human knowledge more and more makes its way to the internet, does it really matter if we aren’t learning as much since we can just get the information we need whenever we need it? You’d better believe it matters.

If we reduce our knowledge to mechanical terms or treat all knowledge like math problems, we are losing out on insight and wisdom. We can look up all day how to get from point A to point B most quickly or where a celebrity was born and raised before hitting it big. But what we can’t learn from the internet is how to live a good life, or what a “good life” even means – a concept called “eudaimonia” debated by the ancient Greeks. We can learn what the laws of the land are or what people’s opinions are about ethical behavior, but we can’t learn for ourselves how to treat others and ourselves with a Google search. We have emotional, intellectual, and some might argue “spiritual” vacuums that will never be filled by information alone. We can’t learn why life itself has value and meaning, or why our unique lives have value and meaning from the internet because those aren’t the types of “knowledge” information alone provides.

It’s not just about “knowing stuff.” It’s about being able to think critically.

Get Wisdom

When we allow the internet to dominate our thinking, we less and less think like holistic human beings and more and more think like machines that are very good at fulfilling a small, unique role in the world – like a robot arm that builds cars on an assembly line faster than any human could. Machines are designed for nothing more than a small set of specialized purposes, but human life is anything but small and specialized. It is diverse, broad, challenging, and surprising. And to deal with these challenges, we need more than information. We need wisdom.

US founding father Benjamin Franklin was a politician, inventor, and thinker who adopted a rigorous daily schedule to maximize his productivity (he often failed to keep the schedule, but he didn’t stop trying). In addition to waking up at 5 am daily, Franklin’s days were framed by two questions. In the morning, he would ask himself: “What good shall I do today?” And each evening before bed, he would ask himself: “What good have I done today?” Without mental space and freedom from distractions, Franklin never could have had the time to think about what good he was doing in the world – or why he should care to in the first place.

[Related: How to Learn Properly: the Feynman Technique]

The famous people who have made the biggest positive differences in the world – whether artists, scientists, politicians, activists, or religious leaders – all had one thing in common: they were able to think conceptually and critically because they paid attention to their surroundings and had control of their minds. The internet offers us incredible benefits and opportunities like never before…but at a price. Remember that you must control how you use the internet. It must not control how it uses you. Find time every day unplug, calm down, and focus on one thing at a time.

Written content for this topic by Daniel Martin.

Key Points:

  1. The internet is making us more superficial as thinkers, keeping us from really paying attention.
  2. Moving information from our short term memory to our long term memory is harder now, thanks to technology addiction.
  3. If computers keep us from the discipline of building memory, humanity as we know it might be in danger.

Quote This:

“When you look at the great monuments of culture, they come from people who are able to pay attention.”

See Also: technology, habits, health

Talk About It
  1. What is your initial reaction to this topic? What jumped out at you?
  2. How often are you online in an average week? Which apps or sites do you use most often? Why are these the apps or sites you use?
  3. Describe what life would be like without the internet.
  4. “The net is making us more superficial as thinkers.” Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
  5. “Memory consolidation” works by moving information from your short-term memory to your long-term memory to create connections between that information and everything else you know. How does the fast-paced, entertainment-based internet interfere?
  6. When is the last time the internet caused you to think conceptually about something? How did you follow up on it afterward?
  7. Name a famous person you admire who has positively impacted the world. How do you think this person was able to achieve greatness? What do you think some of their day-to-day activities were?
  8. What are some steps you can take to “Find time every day unplug, calm down, and focus on one thing at a time?”
  9. Write a personal action step based on this conversation.

For more on this topic, check out the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr.