Is the internet making us dumber?

For me the short answer is no. However, what the internet is doing is changing our emotional and cognitive responses to ourselves and those people around us.

Aspergers and Autism
People who are on the spectrum of Aspergers and Autism differ from the rest of the population in that their emotional expression and understanding is withheld and internalised. Those on the spectrum do have feelings and emotions but the ability to understand them and share them is difficult for them. Therefore those on the spectrum may have emotional outbursts that may be loud, highly charged and even violent but they have problems with simple sensual touch and caring emotions or empathy.

Internet Based Aspergers Syndrome
One important aspect of communication is in visual expressions, responses and observations. It is estimated (Psychology Today) that body language, visual non-verbal communication, amounts to around 55% of all communication. Autistic behaviour lacks this visual context. Eye contact is avoided so all body language is lost. So immediately autistic people are missing 55% of the communicated message.

Those involved in Internet communication, using text and email, are no longer seeing or understanding the body language of those people they attempting to communicate with and will therefore act in an autistic manner.

Calacanis, the internet blogger, says that he’s come to recognise a new disorder, the underlying cause of, what he calls, Harris’ Law, Internet Asperger’s Syndrome, which affects people when their communication moves to digital, causing them to stop seeing the humanity in other people, and to behave in other ways that parallel the symptoms of Asperger’s Syndrome.

However at least the Autistic person can hear what people are saying. It is estimated (Psychology Today) that 38% of communication is in the tone of voice. This is totally lost in digital communication. This means that those with Internet Based Aspergers Syndrome are even more emotionally disabled than those with regular Asperger’s syndrome.

What is left in the communication is the written word of a text, email, or posting on Twitter or FaceBook, this is only 7% of the meaning in the communication leaving a huge potential for miscommunication.

When people get locked into the Internet on social media or gaming, over time, it would appear that they lose their empathy and emotional/social contact with others. You may have thousands of friends on Facebook and not really know any of them. This suggests an ever increasing social disconnect. Looking at many internet games that can serve to normalise violent behaviours and attitudes it makes me wonder whether we are training ourselves to be harder, less caring and more isolated.

Harris’s Law
At some point, all humanity in an online community is lost, and the goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another person.

The internet with all the people communicating online can easily wind up mimicking these Asperger’s behaviours because they are imposing the same disadvantages on themselves. In both cases, when the ability to see nonverbal responses and facial expressions goes away, on the internet you then need to add the tone of voice. What really goes is empathy. So in the end you are no longer communicating with a person, they have just become words on a screen. Or only 7% of who they are.

The positive side of the Internet is our ability to share and access information. The key here is in the word information. Information is not emotion.

So, for me the Internet does not make us dumber what is does is make us less empathic. It is good but not at the cost of real face to face relationships. At least with Skype and FaceTime we can see the other person and hear the tone of their voice, here we have the chance to get near to the 100% of communication. When we rely on word alone we have a mere 7% – not good!

Take care, be happy and communicate

Sean X

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