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4 Ways the Internet is Reprogramming Us

(This content is being used for illustrative purposes only; any person depicted in the content is a model)

Author: Justin Mckibben

Thinking about it makes me wonder if we will one day truly be trapped in the matrix. Will we lose real reality in being brainwashed by gigabytes and used up like batteries for the ever advancing and expanding power of technology? I mean, I’d love to learn Kung-Fu in 5 seconds and dodge bullets, but… nah.

It is a reality that we are slowly but surely being reprogrammed by the internet. Not so hard to believe with it being such a constant presence in our lives. Its the legacy of the smartphones, all hail free wifi. I can honestly say in the past I have pondered on how the constant growth and innovation of iPhones and app interface might affect our genetic evolution or natural instincts, and I honestly can’t say it’s all that crazy to consider. Here are just 4 ways the internet is reprogramming us.

  1. The ‘F’ Affect

Thanks to the Internet, amazing social media and the exciting dialect of texting many believe we are writing our history as a post-literate society. The prominence of blogs and ‘articles’ plastered with more moving images or GIFS than words supports this idea, but one thing is definite; according to research conducted by both Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) and Mediative, this type of online reading content is altering the way we read.

Our eyes have been trained up to this point to read information by quickly skipping horizontally from one word to the next, then back to the start of the next line. Nowadays that’s too old school, and the internet has given us a new (but not much improved) method.

NNG refers to it as the “F-Shaped Pattern”, Mediative calls it the “Golden Triangle”, but either way it means when we are screen reading (i.e., reading on Internet-connected computer screens, smartphones, e-book readers, etc.), our eyes make a triangle or F-shape down the page:

So instead of regularly reading from this complete line to the next line

We have adapted to trying to skim corners of text

Where our minds typically associate with

The most important information,

Something like this


  1. Proteus Effect

Anyone who has ever played a video game where they have had to design an avatar knows how stressful it can be to try and create the perfect look. Subconsciously we actually relate and identify with our avatars a lot more than we realize, be it an elf warrior, a Sith Lord, or a tattooed car thief. I’ve pretended to be all three, but I’ve only actually ever been one for realzies.

These constructed identities we use for our online interactions are responsible for a phenomenon called the “Proteus Effect”, which is how we gradually begin to act like our online selves in our real-world lives.

There have been various studies to support this concept. When people who use an avatar that is physically attractive and empowered, it boosts their confidence and assertiveness, and the same with people who use less attractive or evil characters who become cruel and self-conscious in real life.

On the up-side, researchers feel virtual reality has the potential to help treat anxiety and mental illness.

  1. Online Disinhibition Effect

This one is a catch 22. On one side, you have the aspect where individuals can disassociate the online user names and avatars with actual people, making it easier to dehumanize others, and making it easier to be rude and disrespectful without social consequences. Anonymity can be a weapon.

This is known as the “Online Disinhibition Effect” which means that the protection from consequence makes us feel comfortable. It gives us the freedom to be awful individuals, or to be more effective when working with others apparently, so anonymity can also be a virtue.

It’s been found that people participating anonymously in online workshops demonstrate:

  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • A willingness to ask more questions

This is because there is no fear of asking stupid questions, giving stupid answers, or failing to complete a task because no one knows who you are.

Additionally, while some perceive anonymity as an excuse to be cruel to others, it’s also a great way of developing strong online communities who commit to generous and worthy causes, instead of pursuit of popularity. Anonymity creates less inclination to be loyal to individuals at the expense of the group, so everyone hones in on the idea of the group and advancing the group’s goals.

  1. Social Overdependence (and yet… Distancing Phenomena)

Through communication such as emails, texts, tweets and social media modern technology has made it easier than ever before for people to stay connected with each other. This is a beautiful thing, but it also often results in an overdependence and even obsession with social interaction that is both crippling our independence and isolating us from healthy communication.

FOMO is the “Fear of Missing Out”, which is described as a form of social anxiety that those who tend to feel unloved or without respect experience when they’re unable to interact socially online. FOMO can be so debilitating that not letting someone on Facebook to stay constantly connected can cause depression, and even cause them to question their own existence in extreme cases.

Social media has caused us to rely on it to the point we can literally withdrawal… at least mentally.


Social media has also made it possible to go pretty much our entire lives without ever having to physically interact with another human being… like ever!

Psychologists have even said we’re creating a “Distancing Phenomena”, which means by never communicating face-to-face, and over-relying on technology to both pacify and educate our children, we are diluting our ability to have real-life conversation.

And yet we wonder why social anxiety is spiking among teens, while simultaneously we overlook that they miss out on learning skills in facial recognition, body language and eye contact that are all essential part of how we as humans express emotions and intentions.

So while I clatter on this keyboard trying to keep your attention long enough to finish this article, adding to the cycle, I can’t help but think how many of you only read the corner of the page. Or how many of you will click ‘like’ or ‘share’ but won’t actually have a conversation with another human being about it (you should totally share it though, either way).

Who clicked the article just because they think the picture looked like them, and who only clicked it to stay relevant on the Facebook feed?

At least let’s acknowledge how society is being formatted for pocket-screens. Now how can we work to changing our compulsions, obsessions and even addictions before they change us for good?

Take the time to see where you unhealthy habits mold you, and which one of those compulsive actions controls you. The internet isn’t the only thing that reprograms us. Drugs and alcohol do too. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135.

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