Contemporary parents generally worry about how much time their little ones spend in front of search engines and social media, poring over Google searches and YouTube videos. Although kids seem unable to tear themselves from the web, the brain is more or less addicted to the medium because it’s able to access so much more information than ever before. The brain is therefore not so much remembering specific details, but rather where to find them.
Betsy Sparrow of Columbia University, a researcher who conducted a study on the internet and memory, observes that humans have always thought in terms of references or “transactive” memory: experts or printed books. The internet, Sparrow argues, is no different.
Gary Small, a University of California, Los Angeles, researcher of how Internet searches influence brain activity in older Americans, told Livescience that although the internet may be negatively impacting social intelligence and empathy in younger populations, their learning capabilities are improving. Regular use of the internet is making kids more productive, creative, and efficient with the information that they do consume.
“It makes us smarter and it makes us stupid,” said Small, author of iBrain Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind…”Probably what it really does is it changes the way we think and process information. There is a cost, but there is also something we gain.”
These findings certainly have a place in worrisome parental conversations about how much internet should be allowed and when, if at all, to limit computer time. Rest easy knowing that your little ones are not degenerating into mindlessness, just developing different ways of thinking.