This is what happens to your brain when you're always online

As digital detoxes increase in popularity, we look back at our interview with research psychologist Max Blumberg who explored what happens when we're always online...

Why is it that we’re seeing problems of being constantly connected?

Our brains were designed two million years ago for an environment that we lived in then, probably running around with not a lot of clothes on and two million years later the environment has changed but evolution is a lot slower than that unfortunately so our brains haven't caught up. That causes enormous problems.

It's like the fact that we eat far too much fat today, of course two million years ago you didn't know when you were going to catch your next brontosaurus for dinner so it really paid you to eat tons of fat in those days and you worked it all off because you were running away from sabre tooth tigers, whereas today we work in modern high-rises and we're not running away from tigers so we really shouldn't be eating that much fat but our brains haven't caught up to that yet.

Our brains were never designed to be always on and permanently connected

In the same way, our brains were never designed to be always on and permanently connected with the amount of stimuli that we get from social media, gaming, constant news updates and our brains haven't evolved to handle that level of high activity yet. And that's a problem.

So what’s causing these problems?

There's definitely an addictive component to it in your brain because the internet does generate a fair amount of dopamine, which is what a heroin addict - or any drug addict – gets when they use, and it lights up your pleasure centres. So your brain has to deal with more and more dopamine and it can actually become quite dependent on it for the rush, which is why people find it really hard to come off drugs, or disconnect from social media. So you really will go through withdrawal if you make up your mind and say, 'I'm not going to be connected 24/7', that's like an alcoholic saying, 'I'm never going to have another drink', that's easier said than done because your brain will tell you that you need it.

What’s the impact of that?

Your brain starts losing the ability to say what's important and what's not important when you have constant stimuli coming in so you lose the ability to prioritise to some extent. In order to prioritise you have to be not connected sometimes, instead of always on, so that you can reflect and take a bigger picture view at your life and say, 'These are the things that I'm going to reply to and deal with.'

If you don't do that, you start looking at everything and not prioritising and if you're not prioritising it's really difficult to take your life to where you want it to go, in terms of your goal. In order to achieve goal, if you say 'I want to become a CEO', for example, it requires a lot of prioritisation and a lot of focus. You have to push tons of stimuli aside. You're not going to be able to do that if you've got tons of media coming in at you 24/7. You'll find that really successful people in life tend to have very definite times where they disconnect.

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