Does life online give you ‘popcorn brain’?

Good article on CNN which says with enough Internet usage, the structure of our brains can actually physically change. Its easier to go online than deal with real life people and tasks.

Levy, a professor with the Information School at the University of Washington, tells the story of giving a speech at a high-tech company. Afterwards at lunch, an employee sheepishly told him how the night before his wife had asked him to give their young daughter a bath. Instead of enjoying the time with his child, he spent the time on his phone, texting and returning emails. He didn’t have to work — it was just that the urge to use the phone was more irresistible than the child in the tub.

“It’s really ubiquitous,” says Cash, a counselor who treats people who have trouble giving up their gadgets. “We can’t just sit quietly and wait for a bus, and that’s too bad, because our brains need that down time to rest, to process things.”

Has some good suggestions on how to cope with popcorn brain:

Some people can easily switch from the constant popping of online life to the slower pace of the real world. If you’re not one of those people and the slow pace makes you jittery, here are some tips:

1. Keep a record of your online life

Keep track of how much time you spend online, and what you’re doing with it, Levy suggests. Note how you feel before and during your time at the computer.

“Everyone I’ve told to do this has come back with personal realizations,” he says. “Very commonly, people will say they tend to go online when they’re feeling anxious or bored.”

2. Set time limits for your Internet use

Give yourself a specific time period – say two hours – to answer personal emails, update your Facebook page, and check texts, Cash suggests. After that, it’s time to turn the computer (or phone) off and do something offline.

3. Stare out the window

Take two minutes to stare out the window. Levy says this can help train your brain to slow down a bit.

4. Establish “free-times”

In a blog on Psychology Today, psychologist Robert Leahy recommends experimenting with BlackBerry free times. “For example, “I won’t check my messages between 6 and 9 p.m.,” he writes. Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy also recommends rewarding yourself for every hour that you don’t check. “Tell yourself that you are reclaiming your life,” he wrote.

5. Phone a friend

Bloggers on WikiHow have been sharing their own list of tips on how to wean themselves off of everything from Internet searching to texting. One person suggests phoning a friend instead of sending instant messages. “Call a friend and ask them to go outside for at least 3 hours a day,” they write. “This will distract you from the computer.”

6. Get tested

According to the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, you may have a problem if loved ones are becoming troubled with the amount of time you are devoting to the Internet or if you experience guilt or shame. They offer a virtual Internet addiction test that can help you determine whether it might be time to shut down, logoff or change your IM status to “away.”

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