Home Tech Everyday Tech Are Our Minds Being Reshaped by Online Reality?

Are Our Minds Being Reshaped by Online Reality?

For decades, science fiction authors have envisioned a future where digital technology has caught up with the complexity of physical existence, creating a virtual world parallel to the real one.

But in a world where much of our daily lives are spent looking at browsers, swiping touchscreens, and hammering away at keyboards, the problem is not so much the inability of computers to recreate reality, but rather the effect it has on how we deal with life itself.

Computer apps and the Internet have made so many of our daily activities so convenient and simple that it is shaping our very psychology. Whether using social media, playing online games, or shopping, we are being subtly trained to expect things just by clicking on them.

Phone apps
Computer apps and the Internet have made so many of our daily activities so convenient and simple that it is shaping our very psychology. (Image: via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

What does that do to our ability to handle the problems in life that can’t be solved instantly, or have no clear solution? What does it do to our ability to compromise and reconcile with others?

From the many studies done, it is clear that gaming affects brain chemistry. According to a study cited by Psychology Today in 2014, violent video games reduce self-control and increase aggressiveness.

But what about nonviolent video games, and the simple fact that computers and the Internet make it possible to receive the kind of instant gratification that doesn’t exist in real life? Research published in Computers in Human Behavior has shown a link between compulsive smartphone use and an inability to deal with negative emotions.

By 2050, we are on track to have almost 15 million Alzheimer’s patients in the U.S. alone. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)
From the many studies done, it is clear that gaming affects brain chemistry. (Image: Pixabay / CC0 1.0)

As more people own and use smartphones, and interact with others using social media, it increasingly turns social life into a series of clicks — not so different from a video game.

The rise of the Internet has made it easier for people to connect, but it has also made it easier for them to shut themselves off from the people around them by sticking to online communities that share their interests and views. Others have turned into Internet warriors or trolls who feed a culture of malice that would be impossible to sustain in a civil face-to-face discussion.

As David Wong, an editor at Cracked.com, points out: “Games are great at giving you novelty to create an artificial sense of progression, showing you something new and different to fight down every hallway. We try to force real life to conform.”

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Leo Timm
Leo Timm is a writer and translator focusing on China's traditional culture, international relations, and its national polity. Follow him on Twitter at @nationalpolity.

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