Internet Brain

“When we go online,

we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading,

man working on the smartphone in sunny day

hurried and distracted thinking,

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and superficial learning.”

Nicholas Carr, The Shallows

Internet culture and the Internet itself are now so ubiquitous that you may not even think of life as being separated into online and offline. If you have a smartphone (and the odds are good that you do), you probably keep it in a pocket or bag–somewhere very close to your body–throughout the day. And overnight, too, lots of us will keep it on a bedside table or right on the mattress or pillow we’re sleeping on.

Even if you’re not actively using your phone, you could receive a text, social media notification, or some other message at any time because it is always connected. It could, of course, lose the signal. But there’s a good chance you’ll see that as a frustration rather than a benefit. I try to be judicious about my phone usage, but I found myself annoyed on a recent camping trip when I couldn’t post to Instagram without any signal at the campsite.

Even if you don’t have a phone or don’t have it on you, you’re likely surrounded by an expanding array of networked things. Everything from fridges to things that we wear to shops and theme parks are becoming more connected in some form or another. Whether cyberspace is taking over the real world, or the real world is diving into cyberspace, we are now thoroughly immersed.

As someone who can remember life pre-Internet (I’m old…ish), it’s crazy to think how quickly and thoroughly things have changed. How natural it feels now to be connected all the time. Most of us could not function without it–whether for the demands and obligations of work or school, or for the more pleasurable things like entertainment, relationships, and staying in the know so you’re not missing out. Constant connectivity, and our reliance on it, has become a way of life.

But because of the dramatic and comprehensive saturation, we should take time to examine the kinds of things it might be doing to us that we’re not immediately aware of. Specifically, how it shapes the way we think, feel, and act. Our brains are the epicenter of concentration, emotion, intelligence, and imagination. We better make sure that anything influencing our brain function–Internet or otherwise–isn’t hampering our ability to be ourselves and be fully human. A person is not just a brain but a fully embodied creature embedded in society. Any changes to our brain will shape how we act with other people and move and breathe in the world.

In some ways, heavy use and reliance on the Internet have boosted our mental and relational powers. Rapid communication and new ways of speaking (emoji, GIFs, memes, and short videos), the way we share stories and experiences, quickly finding information, surrounding ourselves with diverse points of view, and certain improvements in abstract thinking and visual-spatial skills.

But the Internet doesn’t just boost and supplement what we can already do. It also shapes us in its image. Our brains have what’s called neuroplasticity–they adapt and rewire themselves based on what we subject them to. In Internet immersion, our brains start to resemble the things that typify the web.

A preference for the short and sweet–the informal and immediate–because that’s how tweets, texts, and other notifications are packaged. An attention span that defaults to skimming the surface because it’s acclimated to scrolling and swiping with few pauses. Extreme multitasking and information overload that mirrors the bustle of several apps, windows, and tabs all in play at the same time. A reliance on servers for memory rather than our own mind because it’s easier to offshore it. And a reliance on links and searches in a browser to move between ideas rather than an internalized understanding of what’s true and how it’s interrelated with other things.

Kind of a big deal. Maybe you notice these things about yourself, maybe not. But if you’re using your phone or some other kind of device for hours a day, this is the kind of shaping and reshaping that’s happening. For all the perks connectivity brings, we’re at the same time being rewired in some concerning ways.  “The net seizes our attention only to scatter it.” We are losing a centered, integrated sense of calm, attention, and deep thinking.

So what do we do? Few of us can disconnect completely. But you should disconnect when you can. You’ll crave connectivity–at a visceral level–so this isn’t easy. Once it’s conditioned, your brain is waiting for the sweet neurochemical hit of a notification and the habitual frenzy of swiping through apps. But carving out some time to not be connected or near a device can help you get back to a better baseline. Maybe try things like no Facebook days or setting a timer for how long you’ll allow yourself to wander through messages and pages. Keep your phone in another room when you go to bed. Maybe that sounds lame or laughable. I get it. You’ll have to figure out what works for you.

Spend some time doing activities that encourage focused attention and long, deep thought. Things like reading, writing, painting, cooking, listening to music (where you focus only on the music). They’ve been a part of the human experience for a long time because of the individual and cultural benefits they bring. They can be a strong counterbalance to the scattering effects of the Internet.

And get outside. Since connectivity is there at every turn, a change of scenery and the restorative benefits of nature can be especially vital. You may find yourself without any signal to connect to at all, and hopefully you’ll see it as a godsend rather than an annoyance like I did.

Internet brain is the standard model we’re all conforming to. The struggles and limitations that result from being constantly connected outweigh the perks. We can reduce the struggles and limitations by taking time to disconnect, diving into things that take the neuroplasticity of our brains in welcome directions, and immerse ourselves in nature. The more connected we become, the more the Internet will continue to shape us. But we can choose to make it one among many things shaping us, rather than the predominant force guiding how we live.

This Week in Upgrades: February 20

Hey, hey! Mondays can be rough, so I hope you’re hanging in there today. If you’re feeling stressed out, you’re not alone. Americans just broke the American Psychological Association’s anxiety meter.There’s a lot of tension, confusion, and struggle all around. Let’s be patient and supportive with each other, yeah?

Were you braving nature’s fury this week? This is some insane wind in North Carolina. We got absolutely pummeled with rain here in California. Couldn’t do much else but stay at home and watch the new season of Chef’s Table (which I was OK with).

Here’s some more of the most interesting things I saw this week…

Trillions of clicks later, we’re thoroughly immersed in a culture of the Like button. It “did a lot of things it set out to do…and had a lot of unintended consequences.”

Did you see that #HurtBae video? Why do we get sucked into watching other people’s pain?

Already thinking about the weekend? Plan on shutting yourself in at home with a nice drink? There’s a word for that.

That’s just unfair.

Here’s the latest on universal basic income, which I’ve talked about previously. Seems to be gaining interest. We’ll see how things work out in Finland.

Los Angeles has so much light pollution that you can’t see many stars at night. But a 1994 power outage allowed them to shine through, and Angelenos basically thought the Milky Way was an alien invasion. How can we reclaim our connection to the night sky?

Keeping tabs on the sea ice: record lows at both poles. NBD.

Did you catch the premiere of Planet Earth IIOur planet is pretty awesome.

Here’s another reason to ditch fossil fuels: a study has linked prevalence of a type of leukemia with living near oil wells.

Asking the hard question to get important answers: Why do so many Americans fear Muslims?

It’s 75 years later, and we haven’t seemed to learn the lessons of the mass internment of Japanese Americans.

Neature: Yosemite’s firefall is blissful.

Hope you have a calm, rewarding week.

This Week in Upgrades: January 23

Bonjour, mes amis. A pleasant Monday to you. How are things?

LA has been getting all kinds of rain. Awesome. My Packers got crushed by the Falcons yesterday. Not awesome.

A new president took over. And millions gathered in solidarity in cities across America.

It’s been an eventful week. I hope you’re hanging in there.

 

Here are some of the most interesting things I saw this week:

This would definitely make flying more enjoyable.

Has Iceland figured out how to prevent teen substance abuse?

Social media has not been kind to teens’ sleep pattern.

2016 was the hottest year on record. Will climate change be on the Trump administration’s agenda this year?

Netflix has expanded the Chef’s Table approach to the world of design.

Cough syrups are a wintertime staple in the medicine cabinet. But do they actually work?

As antibiotic resistance increases, do insects hold the key for the future of our immunity?

Chronic diseases are not an inevitability of aging. It’s more about how we live.

If you put sriracha or hot sauce on everything, this is some promising news.

Moving beyond snobbery. The best beer to drink is the one that fits the occasion.

Don’t forget to be awesome.

This Week in Upgrades: November 28

Are you still full from Thanksgiving? I’ve eaten Brussels sprouts every day since Thursday and I’m feeling like a champion. That balances out all of the pieces of pie, right?

I hope you had an enjoyable holiday. Here are some things you might have missed over the long weekend.

Some of the best and worst accents attempted in film.

The US Army has sent an eviction notice to the DAPL protesters.

In the US, 40% of food is wasted. Why do we throw away so much?

Here’s the best burger from each state. Is your favorite on the list?

Did you watch the Gilmore Girls revival on Netflix? What did you think?

What do you do when you can’t get along with your boss?

“If you want someone to listen to you, don’t offend them.”

People are making themselves miserable trying to feel happy. A reminder that happiness is more than a feeling.

Thanks, as always, for following along with Upgraded Humans. Have a wonderful week!

This Week in Upgrades: September 5

“So long as the laboring man can feel that he holds an honorable as well as a useful place in the body politic, so long will he be a loyal and faithful citizen.” Those words from an 1894 House of Representatives committee report pointed to the welcome arrival of Labor Day as a federal holiday. Whereas previously, work in America was often characterized by 12-hour or longer days, 7-day workweeks, child laborers, unregulated safety conditions, and appallingly low wages, the late 1800s saw mass unionization and strikes to improve working conditions for everyone.

There’s still a long way to go to achieving the common good–perhaps a total rethink and remaking of the American Dream, achieved through more unionizing, striking, or other collective effort. But I hope that, at least today, many of you are able to rest from your hard work and enjoy the day as you please.

Tons of interesting things in the world and on the web to delve into on this holiday…

Maybe enjoy the day with some oysters? They’re surprisingly great for the planet and for you.

Be careful out there: bad driving is the primary cause of traffic jams. Just another reminder that we all suck at driving.

Looking for something to kick back on the couch and watch? Chef’s Table: France is très bon.

As someone who doesn’t even use Snapchat, this interview with a 14-year-old on how high schoolers use photo- and video-based social media was super interesting. I feel so old.

This is not how the voter-candidate relationship is supposed to look. Money in politics is an ethics issue for both major parties and their candidates.

Life on Earth may have emerged much, much earlier than we thought. Absolutely fascinating.

Hooray for print books (#bibliophile)! Also, could we maybe get to 100% of Americans having read at least one book in the last year? Learning and new experiences make the world go ’round, and you’re talking about a page or less per day to read one book in a year.

Some overzealousness with Zika wiped out millions of bees. Bees can’t catch a break, and we need them to.

A National Institutes of Health review confirms that non-drug treatments like yoga and acupuncture are effective against common pain. +1 for yoga.

Fracking just caused the largest manmade earthquake in US history. I’d say we need to be asking some more questions about an energy extraction process that does this.

Speaking of energy extraction, the fast-tracked Dakota Access Pipeline construction is causing all sorts of destruction and desecration of Standing Rock Sioux land. Protesters were met with pepper spray and dogs. Complete WTF situation.

Here’s a brief history of stop-motion animation. Such a cool art form. Want to see Kubo and the Two Strings.

Hope you have the best week possible. Thanks for reading!

The Stories We Tell

For peoples, generally, their story of the universe and the human role in the universe is their primary source of intelligibility and value. The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of the present. –Thomas Berry

Human beings are a creature of stories. We spend endless hours streaming back-to-back-to-back episodes of serialized television. We hand over record box office dollars to see the latest installment in one of the many ongoing cinematic universes. We look at best of summer book lists to find out what novel we should take to the beach. We talk about our workplaces in terms of roles and performance–the language of actors and actresses. We run political campaigns on stories like retrieving a supposed golden age (make America great again), going it alone for a future of safety and self-sufficiency (Brexit), and preventing impending dystopia (Trump must be stopped).

Stories are the way that we make sense of the world, and they long have been. The Enûma Eliš, the Illiad and the Odyssey, the narratives of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles, the Quran, evolutionary reductionism, neoliberalism, and countless other stories have shaped and given meaning to our existence.

Because we experience life as it unfolds through time, it makes sense that we often see things in terms of the narrative elements of beginning, middle, and end. We see ourselves as some kind of characters involved in an unfolding drama: whether it’s the macro level–tales about the birth of the universe and the place of humanity in it–or the micro–a local news segment on homelessness. We make sense of how all of the pieces of life fit together by organizing them into a plot with characters, direction, intentions, and resolution.

Stories are powerful and relatable because they answer some of the most profound questions we have. Why are things the way they are? How did we get to now? Where are we going? Why are we here? Stories give answers to our aspirations for prosperity and success, security and comfort, purpose and intelligibility. (These categories come from the very excellent book The Great Turning, which I’ve previously referenced here).

Some of the stories we tell are quite good. These stories are successful because they answer questions about prosperity, security, and purpose in ways that correspond closely to reality (as best as we can tell) and make us feel more alive. Think of your favorite movies. What makes them your favorite? I bet if you think about it a bit, they tell a story that answers one or more of these questions in a realistic, humane, and compelling way.

Think of your own worldview. What makes sense about the story you tell yourself about why the world is the way it is and why you’re here? It’s likely because it incorporates everything you’ve experienced, everything you’ve seen, everything you believe about human nature, and everything you hope for in a way that feels real, deep, and full of potential and purpose.

Other stories are unconvincing or wrong. The world is the way it is because of that group of people, and we should do away with them. A free market is the only way to prosperity for all. The universe was created in six literal days by a bearded grandfather in the clouds. Men are superior to women. Whites are superior to other races.

Many of these bad stories fail to perceive the interconnectedness and value of all things. They tell their story by excluding or belittling a whole chunk of reality. These stories cannot properly narrate why things are the way they are and where they’re going, because they have an incomplete or warped view of reality as we know it.

Think of some of the worst movies you’ve seen. What makes them so terrible? Is the acting bad? That touches on an inability to represent the reality of how emotionally and socially complex human beings actually are. The very best actors usually have extremely high empathy–they’re able to emote on screen in ways that feel as genuine as real life–and, in turn, we as the audience resonate with their performance. Is the plot boring, corny, or absurd? It’s likely because it fails to tell in an interesting and satisfying way why things are the way they are, how they got there, where they’re going, and the meaning of it all.

Whether it’s the stories we’re watching on TVs, devices, and movie theater screens, or our own real-world stories about our families, neighborhoods, workplaces, and current events, stories are everywhere. It’s up to us to winnow out the good from the bad, and elevate the stories that speak to the reality of the world we find ourselves in and how we can best find prosperity, security, and meaning in it.

 

This Week in Upgrades: May 30

Bonjour! A pleasant Monday to you. I hope you have a very enjoyable day off if you’re on vacation. If you’re grilling, this might be a good place to start. I’m working myself but I’m feeling pretty good since I’m nearly back to full health after a wicked cold. Illness can strike at any time, guys. Take good care of yourself!

We keep marching closer to the halfway point of the year, which is just insane. So much to do and enjoy still and we’re already kicking off summertime. What’s left on your 2016 to-do list?

Once again, the past week hasn’t let us down. All sorts of interesting, important, and unexpected things. Here are just a few:

This little guy should motivate all of us to care more about the environment. He just found out. What’s our excuse?

Do you use this meaning of actually (maybe without realizing it)? Be careful what your words convey.

I am a big fan of Person of Interest (watch it if you haven’t!). This inside perspective on how the celebrated tech thriller got cancelled makes me wonder how we even got the five very good seasons we did.

Speaking of shows, season 2 of Chef’s Table on Netflix just released. You should definitely watch that too. As great as season 1, especially the Ana Ros episode.

Here’s the hourly wage you need make in every state to comfortably afford a two-bedroom apartment rental.

The US reported its first case of last-resort antibiotic resistance. This a possible health crisis we’ve heard very little about so far. Recommend Missing Microbes and The Hidden Half of Nature if you haven’t read them.

The average CEO last year made $10.8 million, having received a raise of over $460,000. Not the common good.

This is probably the only time that I’m cool with wasps.

Native Americans have a right to be upset about this, and everyone else should be too.

Pho is so, so good. Here’s a history of the delicious dish.

Private funding is changing the possibilities of human longevity.

Have a great week!

 

This Week in Upgrades: May 16

Dang, Monday. Already? If you’ve gotta be today let’s make sure it’s good. Maybe a few more links than usual? Let’s do it.

For starters, we can be thankful how much commercial time Netflix is saving us. Wow.

It might also be good to know when peak road rage happens. Be an informed commuter and avoid the insanity.

Here’s exactly how cars ruined cities. But maybe hyperloop can save mass transportation?

France is moving to ban all after-hours work emails. This seems like a good start to tackling the work-life imbalance many people are living with.

Speaking of work, we could really use some of these emojis that show women professionally instead of just getting their nails done.

Also in the work realm, your weekly reminder that automation is in research and development to “completely obliterate” human labor. We definitely need a new American Dream.

Have a unique coffee order? We are in the midst of mass customization. What’s that all about?

Also in food, what can be done about food deserts?

This climate change visualization is indeed convincing. Time for solutions.

Other sad environmental news: honeybees are still in decline. No!

Is there a vicious cycle of jailing the poor in America?

A new study suggests yoga may help stave off dementia. Just another reason to practice it.

Have a great week! You’re gonna crush it.

Boyle
via GIPHY

 

 

 

This Week in Upgrades: May 2

Hello! Today is the first Monday in May. A third 0f 2016 has already come and gone, you guys. Whoa! But there’s still plenty of time to try to put into and get out of this year everything that you want to. Are you dreaming in years and living in days?

The days of this past week brought some really interesting stuff.

Lots of important animal things:

Buffalo are about to become the official mammal of the United States. In many ways, they tell the story of America.

Kenya just burned over 100 tons of stockpiled ivory.

Elephants have performed in one of the most popular circuses for the last time. Probably should do the same for the rest of the show animals.

Also, barn owls are just really cool. Amazing.

In news of the human animal variety:

SpaceX plans to send a craft to Mars as early as 2018. We may become an interplanetary species sooner than we thought.

Will the first manned mission to Mars look something like this?

Drones are more popular than ever, and we’re not talking about the one your neighbor is flying. Is it too late to stop the unmanned arms race?

The Punisher was the best part of Daredevil Season 2, and now he’s getting his own series. Interested to see how they tell more of his story.

A majority of Millennials are disturbed by capitalism. The flaws of the “free market” are more apparent than ever.

What’s it like to perform the most popular, culture-challenging show in the world hundreds of times? Ask Hamilton’s Leslie Odom, Jr.

Have a fantastic week! You got this.

It's Gonna Be May
via GIPHY

This Week in Upgrades: April 25

Hello, friend. Is it Monday again already? I hope the weekend treated you well.

I spent much of it cleaning the house from top to bottom, which–though probably not as fun as whatever you did–always feels good to complete. There will need to be some How To Adult cleaning posts in the future. I’ve learned a lot about what not to do.

In case you missed it, American currency is officially getting a major redesign. Pretty awesome that Harriet Tubman will be on the $20 (though not everyone was thrilled). It’s interesting to see how bills have evolved over time.

This week we found out that nearly half of Americans could not come up with $400 for a personal emergency if they had to. There’s some serious work to be done to help the middle class.

In more uplifting news, this week also gave us this video of 7 girls on appreciating culture rather than appropriating it.

Season 2 of Chef’s Table is almost here! Season 1 was so good.

Is “a thing” a thing?

We need to get serious about soda.

Is this why we procrastinate? Seems to explain why we’re bored, too. More reasons to do yoga.

Solar-powered planes aren’t practical for commercial flight yet, but they’re its green future.

Similarly, we whiffed on electric cars in the past, but hopefully we can get it right this time.

Have a great week!

Back to the Future