WebWise news report - the web and young brains
The impact of the web on young brains has been in the news recently with two separate reports.
An article in The Sydney Morning Herald highlighted the findings of Baroness Greenfield, a British brain expert, whose research suggests that the loss of eye contact and physical closeness can result in the shrinking of brain tissue in children, something she has labelled 'mind change'. Online chat and social media use, although seen as something that people do in their spare time, could be replacing human contact that might otherwise have come in the form of an after-school chat.
A recent BBC report also highlighted the problem of web addiction in South Korea, where neurologist Dr Lee Jae-Won is offering medical treatment in the form of anti-depressants and therapy to help patients overcome their addiction. Key to his treatment is the use of brain scans, which show the areas of the brain that aren't functioning properly.
"The results from internet addicts were very similar to patients with ADHD, and also other forms of addiction, in the way the brain functionality had been depressed," says Dr Lee.
Both specialists are talking about the impact of web reliance – as a means of escapism, and as a necessary part of daily life. The issue with the latter form of web use is that it's hard to know who's addicted. Is constant web use the technological equivalent of other forms of addiction or dependency? Once we start, do we all think we could stop if we wanted to?
Teens aren't the only ones who finish off a face-to-face conversation online when they get home. How many colleagues agree to email each other later about a project, rather than discuss it there and then? Work and play have become so confused that social media is used in the office and work emails are logged into at night.
For teens entering the adult world there's unlikely to be much respite from the computer habit, but it is important once in a while for all of us to test how hooked we are. If you really think you can stop when you want, just try it. Being connected is great, but the best thing about it is the choice and freedom it gives us. If we can't even go a night without checking our emails, we're perhaps not as free as we think.
Hajar is a regular contributor to the WebWise blog and has also made award-winning programmes for BBC Radio. In her spare time she loves reading, writing and singing.