Your Brain on Drugs, uh… Social Media

Researchers at Cornell University discovered that when the human brain is “hooked” on social media like Twitter and Facebook, it resembles closely a brain hooked on drugs.

In other words, there’s not much difference between doing cocaine and spending an hour on Facebook.

Actually, I just made that up. The research doesn’t exist, but sometimes I feel that way!

Don’t you feel scattered sometimes? Everybody I know who owns a smartphone or a tablet, or spends time on Twitter and Facebook and the Internet in general feels like they’ve lost a bit of their ability to concentrate in the last few years.

We’ve become beasts of multi-tasking, constantly going from one task to the next.

Whenever I take the bus, I see most people typing away texts on their smartphones, or lost in the shiny screen of their tablet computer.

In just a few years since social media and smartphone technologies have appeared, it seems like our entire way of viewing the world has changed. Some of it is good — we all know what. But a lot of it is bad.

The Shallows

Last year I read a book called “The Shallows” but with a more provocative subtitle: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

In it, the author argued that because of these new technologies, we’ve actually changed the makeup of our brains and the way we now process information.

The brain is an extremely malleable thing. Once you start multi-tasking like crazy with the Internet, then your brain will naturally start to multi-task everywhere.

In other words, the way you use your brain for one thing conditions it for EVERYTHING.

Nowadays, we’ve become extremely proficient at processing huge amounts of information. Our brains have become better at scanning and processing.

I’ve noticed it myself in the way I now read a print newspaper. Because I do a lot of reading on my computer screen, I conditioned my brain to quickly scan through multiple webpages.

Now, on the rare occasions that I pick up a newspaper, I’m noticing I’m doing the same thing! I just blast through the articles without fully reading them.

So what is it doing to our brain?

The more we multi-task and scan through information quickly, the more we lose our ability to concentrate and come up with useful insights.

That’s a problem nowadays for people trying to make a living with their website.

You always feel tempted to multi-task and have lost some of your ability to concentrate on one task at a time.

And the more you do it, the more you condition your brain to work in this manner.

How to Reclaim Your Brain

With smartphones, tables, social media and the Internet, there’s always something calling your attention.

If you want to be successful in making a living doing what you love, you need to condition yourself to avoid these distractions. You need to retrain your brain.

Here are some ways to do it:

– Once a week, leave the cell phone behind. Spend a day without any Internet. It’s liberating!
– Dedicate blocks of time to work on your website. During that time, turn off all distractions (including cell phones)
– Force yourself to ignore distractions. When your friend forwards you that YouTube video you must absolutely check out, feel free to delete the email without regret.
– Use a program like InstaPaper to save articles you want to read later. Whenever something catches your attention, “defer” the distraction by putting it in your InstaPaper. Then once a week, spend some time to read through these articles.
– When you work on some projects, it may be useful to turn off your Internet to just focus on writing and creation.
– Resist the temptation to own a smartphone, a tablet AND a laptop. It’s best to limit your sources of Internet input. That doesn’t mean you should live in a void, but you don’t really need ALL that latest technology.

Just like everybody, I feel addicted to the Internet. At 36, I’m probably the LAST generation to have lived my childhood without cell phones, social media and the Internet.

Like most of my readers, I actually remember what it was like to live in a world without constant distractions.

I remember the value of boredom, and the original ideas that came out of it.

Although I do think these new technologies are very powerful, I know they can also destroy creativity and productivity.

It’s up to you to have a little discipline to use them wisely.