Is Facebook Making Us Stupid?

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Last night over tea, a friend and I debated how many miles long the island of Manhattan is. I knew the answer: 13 and a half. He “knew” the answer: 26. What did we do? Well, we do what all people who don’t know/can’t remember a fact do. We went to the library. That’s not true. We went onto Wikipedia. The island of Manhattan is “13.4 miles long and 2.3 miles wide at its widest.” I was much closer than my friend. (I knew the answer because of an edition of Vice from a few years back: The Vice Guide to Girls. Writers had two girls strap on some mother-heels and walk the island of Manhattan. They did not make it far. They also took pictures of their feet throughout the trek. The photos were really quite disturbing. It’s why I wear flats.)

I began to wonder, what is Wikipedia doing to my brain? I don’t even need to think; I type in a word or a phrase and I find the answer. Weeks ago, Seed Magazine published an article on the effects of the Internet on brain plasticity. They share the bad news first: excessive dependence on social-networking sites corresponds to ADHD, social anxiety, and depression. That’s what I get for looking at pictures of people I no longer talk to. However, those who use search engines such as Google exhibit greater brain activity! The visual, language, decision-making, and short-term working memory sections of your brain are all active; even if you’re not reading closely.

They did not explore what happens when you use Google to find pictures of people you no longer talk to.

Our advice: remember that your brain changes in response to everything you encounter. Don’t feed your brain too much useless garbage. Try to remember facts instead of always resorting to the Internet for answers. Although… sometimes the answers on the Internet are much better than the answers in your head. Richard Restak of Think Smart: A Neuroscientist’s Prescription for Improving Your Brain’s Performance (who is pretty sharp for an old dude) notes some exercises to improve memory here. I made up one significantly “easier” than his: (1) List every single country you can in Africa. Unless you’re Sarah Palin. (2) Check your answers. (3) Note what you missed. (4) Do it again. It’s not as easy as I had initially thought. Repeat 1 through 4 until you want to give up. Remember how easy this used to be back when you watched Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? Try again.

So, yes. Facebook is making us stupid. Flavorwire is not. Yeah!