Technology Is Literally Changing Our Brains. Here’s The Conversation I Wish We Were Having

By Dr. Leslie Carr

I love the Internet. I love the freedom and the power it gives me as a business owner. I can share my ideas with the world by blogging. I can see my clients on Skype when I travel. I’ve created business partnerships with Twitter DMs. No joke. 

But you know what I don’t like about it? Feeling constantly chained to my email, as though I’m expected to always be available. And the feeling that, at any given moment, someone can give me something to do just by sending me a message, or the thought that anyone could feel slighted by me because I didn’t text them back quickly enough. Is your favorite position in bed the one that’s closest to the outlet?

When did things get to be this way? 

When the Internet first burst onto the scene, we were given a lot of false promises. We were told we’d be able to “work less” because things would be “more efficient.” 

As if. 

Because it seems to me like we’re all just working more — more hours, greater output, higher expectations. We’re all buried under a seemingly never-ending list of things to do, to follow up on, to keep track of. 

I don’t know about you, but I get burned out. Something about my brain sometimes feels … fried. 

And the thing that breaks my heart about it all is that I know how good it feels for life to not be that way. You know that feeling of going on a walk in the woods and truly being there? Not feeling pulled by the inescapable notion that there’s something to be done, but truly being there? The feeling of snuggling with someone you love, the sensation of touch on your skin — it can feel electric. 

Do you enjoy it as much as you used to? Or is your favorite position in bed the one that’s closer to the outlet so that you can keep your smartphone plugged in while you’re reading? 

There are scientific reasons that life in the real world feels so good — and we can talk about this in a number of different ways. First, powering down and being in the present activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is a fancy way of saying “the relaxation response.” 

Plus, touch from someone you love — even a good IRL conversation — releases the neuropeptide oxytocin. We call it “the bonding hormone” because it makes us feel close to people. Oxytocin is neurochemical love.

We desperately need to be talking about this. As a community, as a culture, we’re in need of an intervention.

But you know what we get from digital technology? Dopamine. The same neurotransmitter that’s released when a person does cocaine. So, it feels good in the moment — let’s not kid ourselves — but where does it get us? 

It gets us to the point of addiction, to where it’s late at night and we’re clicking various apps over and over again, looking for new news. We all know we’ve been there — even those of us who are older, who should know better, who meditate or at least try to. No one is immune. 

The thing that worries me the most is that I don’t see this getting better anytime soon. In fact, I think it’s only getting worse, which is why we desperately need to be talking about this. As a community, as a culture, we’re in need of an intervention. 

Because we all know where things are headed, but it doesn’t need to be this way. 

Because of something called neuroplasticity, our brains are designed to adapt to the environment. Our brains get better at anything we do a lot. So if we’re on the Internet perpetually, our brains start to crave that kind of stimulation all the time. But we can also train our brains to do the opposite: To be present with ourselves and with others, to think more deeply, to be self-reflective, to live in the moment. 

To really live in the moment. 

It may not always seem like it matters that much, whether we’re sitting with someone and actually present versus mainlining URLs — but it does. All of this online behavior is changing our brains and making it harder for us to pay attention, to follow through on long-term projects, to become the people we want to become. 

So I, for one, want to have this conversation. Are you with me? 

For more on how to transform your approach to technology, check out my new course, How To Overcome Everyday Anxiety & Have A Healthy Relationship With Technology.

Photo Credit: Stocksy

Dr. Leslie Carr is a licensed clinical psychologist (PSY 25306)

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