Is The Internet Affecting The Creative Side of Our Brains?

Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist, author and a self-proclaimed “Science Evangelist.” She is the creator of a podcast series called “Science Underground.” She joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss the internet and its impact on the creative side of our brains.


Ainissa Ramirez is a scientist, author and a self-proclaimed science evangelist.

She is the creator of a podcast series called 'Science Underground.'

She joins me now to discuss the Internet and its impact on the creative side of our brains.

So this is a topic that I am sure that everyone has an opinion on.

Now, is our brain something that actually changes over time given the type of stimulus in the world that we live in?

Absolutely, and this is good news because if you're older, like myself, you can learn that second language.

You can learn how to play the guitar.

The brain is flexible.

It's plastic.

That's what they would say.

So that's wonderful.

But it's also worrisome because it means that whatever we expose the brain to, it will also change accordingly.

And so now that we're all on the Internet where we're jumping from topic to topic, we're skimming.

We don't think deeply, so we're going to start adapting those kinds of skills as well.

So we are going to enter what this book that I read recently called the shallows.

The shallows, what does that mean?

So, like, right now, if I look at my phone, I have about six different headlines.

I have four different apps that are telling me of things that it thinks are very important to me.


Now, I feel somewhat informed in the news all of a sudden.

That's right.

I mean, obviously, I'm in the news business, but I feel somewhat informed just by looking at these headlines, and I might not click...

Right, but you're not doing a deep... Well, you will do a deep dive.


But most people won't do a deep dive, and so we don't develop the skills for deep thinking.

We won't have the skills to do the critical thinking that used to happen when we used to read long magazine articles or read books, but now that we're on the Internet and we're reading a tweet or a Facebook post, our attention spans are looking at things that are very short in size, and so the brain will start to adapt to digesting just small nuggets.

So what part of our actual brain is the creative side versus the numbers side, so to speak, and how is that affected?

Is it because it's just not stimulated that it starts to shrink down, or what's happening?

Oh, that's a good point.

Well, the parts of the brain for creativity is still under debate.

If you talk to different scientists, you'll hear that they're still starting to study it, and they're still trying to figure out how the brain creates.

It ends up that it's a bunch of parts of the brain that's interacting with each other, and what you want is a superhighway between all of them to be highly creative, so they're still kind of sorting that out.

But it has been found, in terms of new skills... Let's say that you and I learn how to juggle for a couple of weeks.

There's a part of our brains that will grow because of that new skill, so we know that it's plastic, and it can change, but for the Internet, they're still trying to study that.

The difficulty is that it's really hard to study the brain because it's really hard to study people who have not used the Internet.

You need a control, and most people have some exposure to it.

Those who don't, maybe they speak a different language or they're Amish or they are suffering abject poverty.

They've got other issues that make them difficult to be controls.


So what I hear you saying, though, is that it is possible to be keeping that part of our brain active by learning new things.



So besides maybe using the Internet less or maybe diving deeper when possible that we can learn to stay creative.

Oh, absolutely.

So there's two factions with creativity.

There's those who say we're going to be highly creative because we're exposed to so many new ideas as you just showed on your cellphone, and we'll know more, so we'll be more creative.

There's another faction that says that in the creativity process, you need to be able to simmer, and because of the way that we use the Internet, we don't really give ourselves space to simmer.

We're highly distracted.

We play Candy Crush.

We're not giving our brains time to think in the background about those ideas, so these two different factions say that creativity is going to change, but one says more and the other says less.


I could see right now a 12-year-old watching this segment saying, 'Ugh, these people are so old.

They don't understand how creative I am on Snapchat.

I did the face swap, and then I made the pineapples rain, and I did all this other stuff.'

What are you saying?


I don't know what you're saying.


So I mean, aren't there tools... I mean, the Internet being a tool...


Aren't there opportunities for creativity that it is enabling or it can enable?


It can create... It can make us more creative.

It's just that the way that we're using it, we're not providing enough time for our brains to incubate that I don't think that we'll be as creative as we'd like.

It definitely is a tool where we can be more creative.

We can learn things instantly.

We don't... Back in the day, we'd have to go to the library, go at certain times, go into encyclopedias and then...

The microfiche.

Microfiche, for the little ones, microfiche is this, you know, film, which is also another thing they don't know.


But so we have access to so much information, but we're highly distracted, and so we're not using that tool effectively to make us the most creative.

All right.

Ainissa Ramirez, thanks so much for joining us.

Thank you.