Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA and the director of its Memory and Aging Center, has been studying the physiological and neurological effects of the use of digital media, and what he's discovered backs up Merzenich's belief that the Net causes extensive brain changes. 'The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains,' he says. The daily use of computers, smartphones, search engines, and other such tools 'stimulates brain cell alternation and neurotransmitter release, gradually strengthening new neural pathways in our brains while weakening old ones.'
In 2008, Small and two of his colleagues carried out the first experiment that actually showed people's brains changing in response to internet use. The researchers recruited twenty-four volunteers- a dozen experienced Web surfers and a dozen novices- and scanned their brains as they performed searches on Google.... The scans revealed that the brain activity of the experienced Googlers was much broader than that of the novices. In particular, 'the computer-savvy subjects used a specific network in the left front part of their brian, known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, [while] the Internet-naive subjects showed minimal, if any, activity in this area.' As a control for the test, the researchers also had the subjects read straight text in a simulation of book reading; in this case, scans revealed no significant difference in brain activity between the two groups. Clearly, the experienced Net users' distinctive neural pathways had developed through their Internet use."
The Shallows, pp. 119-21