Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Brain atrophy. Can the internet be blamed?

Embedded in the city of Oxford in England is the University's Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences dedicated to research. Deep in their neuorology halls they document, debate and decipher brain changes.

One of the methods employed is called SIENA (Structural Image Evaluation, using Normalisation, of Atrophy). SIENA uses 'brain extraction' tools, along with others that don't sound quite as extreme.

I stumbled on this research after reading an article by Nonprofit Tech 2.0 called 11 Nonprofit Websites Designed for the Social Web, and from there tried to find more out about the conclusions they made. The nonprofit article noted that social media is not only changing how we communicate, but it's also "changing how our brains process information."

Nonprofit Tech encourages their readers to use this information to change outdated concepts of website design, stating, "design principles of just five years ago no longer apply." They propose that websites should have less text, more images, more video, and larger social networking icons. Progressive sites would employ simple navigation, offer ease of subscribing to e-newsletters, and make it obvious how to "Donate Now." The resource they quoted came from the Nominet Trust.

I reviewed the Nominet Trust documents they sourced. Nominet states that our online well-being comes not only from protecting our online privacy, but also understanding how digital technologies effect our OFF-line life, as well.

What do we do with all this information?

The Nominet report exhorts parents to monitor online use by younger children and monitor older students use of instant messaging. Online is basically a massive distraction that causes the brain to atrophy.

To combat this, they made some sound suggestions, kids should get more sleep, more exercise, and  schools should take action to teach about overuse of online during learning hours. The report also noted, "More research is needed in a number of areas, to help evaluate the risks."

I'm wondering if common sense could give us the same understanding.

I'm less cranky when I get a good night's sleep.

I'm less irritable when I actually accomplish something versus wandering aimlessly around online, only answering an occasional email, but not enough to actually clear out my inbox.

The brain research will continue in England. Brains will grow and recede. Before mine completely dissipates, I'd like to get to the bottom of this.

Let's you and I cut to the chase. What does your personal research tell you — are you happier online or offline?

Read more:
Copy of the Nominet Trust study, download pf a PDF:
The impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing.

Since the post, these references have popped on brain and the Internet:

July 22, 2011UC Berkeley research on 24 adults determined viewing content on stereo 3D display hurts eyes and brain. Eye constantly adjusts to both distance of physical screen and that of 3D content, reaction to placement of sound is different for iPhone and movie screen. End result is visual discomfort, fatigue, headaches.
3D Hurts Your Eyes (and brain)


UPDATED 7-24-11