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Introduction and Background information
Internet has been in use since the invention of modern computers. Military departments and scientists in the United States and the USSR are said to have been the very first users of the internet. Today, internet has gone through a lot of evolution. Internet of the 1960s and that of today have no comparison. Many aspects of human life have changed since its invention. Our tangible folders, documents, mailboxes, spreadsheets and bookshelves have been replaced by software equivalents. Almost every aspect of modern life depends on the internet. People shop online, date online, pay bills online and consult doctors online.
Due to the fact that internet has become an integral part our lives, scholars, scientists, philosophers and lay people have become concerned on the effects of this technology on people's lives. The big question concerning this topic is "How the internet affects the way think?" This is a topic that has elicited heated debate from all centers. The focus of this paper, thus, will be to present what researchers and lay people feel about this topic. From the outset, it must be stated that (as part of thesis statement) that the internet affects not only the way we think but also alters the brain structure.
In this section, facts on how internet affects the way we think will be discussed. These facts are will be supported by reliable findings of peer reviewed research. Authors, scientists and scholars who have made great contribution to the topic will feature prominently. After a discussion of how internet affects/or does not affect the way we (students and others) think, this section will be followed by a conclusion section where a verdict will be delivered.
Author Nicholas Carr has made a lot of contribution to the topic of how internet affects the way we think. In 2008, the author published an article in the Atlantic Monthly and labeled the article "is Google making us stupid?" What is the internet doing to our brains?" Carr purports that internet "diminishes attention". He notes that he does his bulk reading and research from the internet. Due to the extensive internet use, his brain has changed. He further notes that he has experienced a constant decay in his ability to pay attention. The same thing, according to the author, must be happening to billions of internet users from all parts of the globe. Students can no longer read long passages without wandering off to other non academic sites. Internet pages are almost always characterized with pop ups whose nature is very enticing.
When people use hard copies they can maintain attention and concentration for hours without being distracted. However, internet users can rarely be attentive for more than 30 minutes on the extreme. There are those who have a similar opinion as Carr's. Those sailing in the same boat with Carr believe that that students in the modern world are "smarter in factuality", but their knowledge is fragile. Internet has made students' brains lose their retention ability. With the internet, everything that is absorbed is subject to erosion. Students and other scholars feel that there is no need to memorize complex information when such can be retrieved with a click of a button.
The web, which is the main component of the internet, has brought changes that can be deemed too profound to be mentioned by some. The web .has made people lose touch with the real world. People spend an eternity conversing with people through twitter and other social sites but they may never come to meet physically with these people. Information is shared through blogs by people who feel connected to each other but in the real sense these people are disconnected. This fact has led to loss of touch with the reality, the natural world. Our emotions, reactions and overall behavior depend not on the real world but on the virtual world created by the web which is a major component of the internet.
When it comes to students' performance, the big question that those seriously involved in the debate is, whether or not internet enhances students' performance? Researchers remain divided on this issue. Barker (6) conducted an empirical research using data collected from 67 students. From his findings, the author realized that, the net effect of internet use by students is a drop in their average performance. He notes that internet provides unprecedented source of information which can largely be used to improve students' performance. However, internet users are presented with several bits of information on the same web page. Some of the information on a webpage may not be academically beneficial. According to the author, students get distracted and redirected to other pages which may not be beneficial to them. At the end of it all, students waste a great chunk of their time. In summary, Barker notes that while internet is poised to enhance students' performance, this fact is undermined by distractions associated with the internet.
Begley (4) just like Carr argues that internet is in the long run bound to cause adverse effects on the brain. The author argues that internet is making students and scholars "shallower" thinkers. Students' and scholars brain capacity to absorb and retain abstract and complex data is likely to be affected by extensive internet use. The author summarizes his research by noting three things that are likely to befall students and other people who use internet for bulk reading and research. These are: Shallowness, credulity and shallowness (6).
Englander et al (86-96) were also interested in finding out the effects internet has on students' performance. They undertook a survey of 128 students from Taiwan middle colleges taking an introductory course in economics. As expected, they were not baffled by the results of their empirical study. Their results confirmed what other researchers had found out. Englander and his coauthors found out that students' performance could not be enhanced by intensive internet use. Internet dependent students perform dismally compared with those who rely on conventional academic sources (90). From the authors' perspective, internet dependent students have a wide array of information to choose from. Due to this, they keep jumping from one source to another and so at the end they end up doing little. Distractions and pop ups are also likely reasons why internet users may not reap full benefits from internet usage.
Another big question in the minds of many is whether or not gender is an issue when it comes to students being influenced by the internet. Chen S. sought to find out whether male and female students are influenced in an equal manner. His findings were as follows: female students are more vulnerable when they browse social sites. These students suffer more in terms of academic grade decline compared with their male counterparts who browse similar sites at a similar magnitude. Male students, on the other hand are bound to be attracted to sites that host free online games. Such sites, according to Chen (800), have a negative impact on male students' performance. Both boys and girls may suffer equally when they spend their time on internet cafes.
Coates J. foresees a situation where "the internet will become a more pervasive part of our daily lives" in the near future. This author notes that in less than 15 years, almost every aspect of our daily lives will solely rely on the internet. He finds that since the invention of internet in the 1960s, this technology has been evolving at "a supersonic speed". In the near future, human brain may be rendered redundant as the internet will be doing all the thinking (Coates 9). How this will be possible is a question that the author asks his readers to wait and see.
Fabos F takes issues with how the internet is being commercialized. He argues that capitalism has taken the better of web pages. He notes that a search on the web through Google, yahoo or any other search engines yields more results that direct readers to commercial sites (Fabos 144). Sites like those owned by governments and non governmental institutions are more academically helpful but such have become marginalized. One may need to go directly to academic sites using web address as opposed to navigating through search engines. The author is also concerned by the fact that pop ups and non academic links always appear on academic pages.
Mokhatari et al were interested in finding out the effects that Television and the internet have on lives of college students. As expected, the authors found that these two were predominant sources of information in the current age. However, college students do not make full use of information that these two sources provide. The authors note that there is a lot of information available on TV and on the internet but the problem is what students do with this information. Volumes of information remain unexploited (Mokhatari 615). Students need to take this as a wake-up call reminding them that they need to take an initiative of utilizing what is offered by both the televisions and the internet.
The other side of the divide
So far, this paper has dwelt on the negative effects of the internet. In this section, positive effects on our daily lives will be discussed. Editor Andrian Kreye of Sueddeutsche Zeitung holds that internet has done a marvelous in the lives of many. It may not have given any of us new experiences or memories; but in one way or another, it has helped usher some (Begley 10). Kreye, however, feels that all the changes that have come with the internet may not constitute a change in the way we think. The internet has not changed any of our convictions; instead, it is people and experiences that change the way we think (10).
Psychologist Stephen Kosslyn of Harvard University contends that internet has done an awesome job in our thinking. It has extended our memory, judgment and perception(11). Further, the psychologist states that students studying in the internet age are better thinkers than they were before internet was integrated into mental and emotional processes of our day to day living.
Greene Joshua a neuroscientist and a philosopher at the Harvard University believe that the internet has not in any way changed the way we think. The microwave has not changed the way we digest proteins and so in a similar way we do our thinking the way we did before internet invention (13). The internet itself does not (yet) know how to think and so it's not it a position to think for us or change the way we think. According to Joshua, the internet will remain (at least for now) very useful but a dumb butler.
Where do we stand?
How is the internet changing the way you think? This was a global question for the year 2010. Answers to this question, as expected, are as varied as they can be. Majority of scholars, students, neuroscientists and philosophers believe that several changes have been witnessed since the invention of the internet. There is a consensus that something has changed: if not on the way we think, then it's on the way people live their lives. Those who believe that the internet has changed the way students think are also divided into two. There are those that believe that internet has had a positive impact on students thinking while on the other hand, there are those that feel that internet has adversely affected the way students think.
Reliable research conducted by researchers from credible institutions has shown that internet affects the way students and every other internet user think. These changes are mainly negative but a few positives have also been registered. The bottom line of what researchers have found is that internet has made students shallower thinkers. People's ability to use their brain to memorize abstract and complex data has been hindered by extensive reliance on the internet. This technology that has been with the human race since the 1960's has not only changed the way we think but has also led to alteration of the brain structure.