Saturday, April 23, 2005
The Internet is a Denial of Service Attack on Your Brain.
"We found that mental performance, the capability of the brain, was
also reduced. Workers cannot think as well when they are worrying about
e-mail or voice mails. It effectively reduces their IQ," says Wilson. From http://in.rediff.com/money/2005/apr/23email.htm
What's interesting is our neurons love new information. New information commands our attention. And our dopamine
system is what tells us what is salient, that is, what we should pay attention
to. Not so coincidentally the dopamine system is involved with all types of addiction.
Cocaine, for example, overwhelms the system with its potency, installing itself as the
most important thing to pay attention to in a person's life.
New information is a less potent drug, but new information cries out
for attention too. The reason is clear: new information helps us
survive. Hey dummy, there's a lion over there, get a move on. You're smelling food, we better eat now. That sort
of thing. Our neurons love new information because that's why they
exist, to process new information.
Email and the internet are a source for flows of new information and
our brains are the sink taking it all in. The problem is email is an
infinite supply of low grade information. Email is mostly junk. Email
contributes next to nothing to our survival. Yet our brain wants to pay
attention to it anyway because it is new.
The Internet is in effect a denial of service attack on our brains. Constantly hit with new useless information we literally
can't pay attention to other parts of our life. The internet may not
have the same kick as cocaine, but the internet makes up for its lack of single
dose potency by having an infinite, constant, and varied supply.
On the internet there's always something new. New events are always happening. People
are always generating new content. The number of channels for
interaction is greater than ever before. We have email, IM, RSS, web
sites, discussion, groups, cell phones, TV, the radio. Our brain is in
heaven with all the information to attend to.
What to do? It doesn't look good. The internet has become like food,
something we can't do without. Food addiction is difficult to combat
because we must eat. You don't need to gamble or drink or take drugs to
survive so you can eventually get off them with some chance of not
Is the internet more like food or gambling? I can't imagine doing my
job or even living my life without the internet. A lot of people are in
the same boat. And I have been on the internet since close to its
beginning, in 1985, so it has been a part of my life for a very long
time. Much like food :-)
in the future we can change our brains to have more conscious control
over what we give our attention to. Meditation is one low tech way
available to all of us right now. Though for mass acceptance we'll need
genetic, drug, or mechanical approach. It can't take a lot of effort
after all :-)
Better filters may not help. The problem is the dopamine system helps
drive your behaviour. So it can make you go do something, like a drug
addict getting the next fix. Having filters doesn't stop you from going
for your internet fix. Good filters may help stop the problem from
starting in the first place though.
Cut-off systems may help. Generalized lock down filters that stop you
from accessing content. Maybe they could be time based. Maybe they could
be input quantity based.
A routine based approach like eating may work. You have 3 or 4 or 5
meals a day with no snacking. Get your internet at specific times of
the day and at no other times. But then an emergency will happen,
everything becomes an emergency, and then relapse.
What makes the internet such an interesting problem is how similar it
is to all our other addictions: food, sex, drugs, gambling, etc. We'll
probably have to deal with it in the same muddled hodge-podge and
ultimately unsatisfactory way as everything else.
But the first step is to admit you have a problem :-)
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8/13/2006; 3:03:05 PM.