In an age where the use of the Internet is becoming more and more necessary to negotiate the real world the idea that it may be doing you more harm than good is very worrying. Popular media is cluttered with stories of how using social network sites reduces peoples real-world social skills and that the popularity of search engines like Google will be the end of education, after all who needs to learn anything when all your information is simply a mouse click away?
In a report that looks at a cross section of studies into the use of the Internet, video games and social networking, neuroscientist Paul Howard-Jones, from his study The Impact of Digital Technologies on Human Well-being, has found that the media may have unjustifiably vilified the use of these digital outlets.
…‘Brain training’ games do have beneficial effects…
The main findings of Howard-Jones’s analysis concluded that the Internet is a vast educational tool and can help with the acquisition of new skills. The accusation from some quarters of the media that the Internet rewires a person’s brain only rings true if you consider that learning any new activity causes changes in the brain. Some studies have shown that the use of ‘Brain training’ games do have beneficial effects on your working memory, improve motor skills and can even slow cognitive decline.
For Facebook fans there is good news too, the use of social websites, the study finds, helps cement friendships, can build self-esteem and there is little evidence to suggest social networking sites are of any special risk to children.
…no conclusive proof that playing violent games makes you a more violent person…
Howard-Jones does find that playing violent computer games can negatively affect your mood and cause aggressive behaviour but only in the short term and there is no conclusive proof that playing violent games makes you a more violent person in general, and conversely playing a pro-social game can have a positive effect on your mood and behaviour.
The main conclusion of this study seems to confirm the old adage that everything is good in moderation. Common sense is Paul Howard-Jones’s main piece of advice, yes spending 19 hours a day on World of Warcraft is going to have an effect on your social life and no you can’t get a degree in pre-Renaissance tapestry by playing Mario, but we all knew that didn’t we?
With proper education children will learn to use the Internet in a safe way as a fun and handy tool. Maybe, just maybe some sections of the media will realise that far from being a brain melting monster the Internet can be used to improve your life after all it’s not going away any time soon so what’s the harm in getting to know it a little better?