Before the infinite supply of social media platforms? Before Google, e-mail, and living your life behind a screen?

Yes, some of us still remember. But as we get ourselves accustomed to this relatively brand-new Internet age, the digital world, and how we engage with it, has been rapidly affecting our real-world practices and functions.

In fact, how many times were you interrupted by a notification on your phone up until this sentence? I for one can tell you that during the course of writing this piece, I have already answered two emails and opened up four new tabs. Normal behavior in 2017, right?

Journalist Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: How The Internet Is Changing Our Brains, says that with the arrival of computers and the Internet came also a "state of perpetual distraction and disruption."

"What psychologists and brain scientists tell us about interruptions," he details, "is that they have a fairly profound effect on the way we think." What becomes harder with our Internet habits? According to Carr, the answer involves our ability to sustain attention, to think "about one thing for a long period of time" and to "think deeply when new stimuli are pouring at you all day long." Does it feel like a lot is happening during your day? This may be why.

Scholars from the University College London also found that in a study of online reading habits, users were "power browsing"--they were not reading online in the traditional sense, but rather utilized a form of skimming, and "bouncing" around to other websites. As noted by Carr, our ability to make "rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged." Even further, this difficulty in making rich mental connections when reading also can affect our ability to do the same offline, when socializing.

So what does this really mean for how we see the world during this Internet age? For one thing, we may see the world as nerve-racking if we can't get our digital fix--in one study, 62% of participants reported feeling anxious if they couldn't get online.

And, as Carr notes, the more distracted you are, "the less able you are to experience empathy." As Internet-based distractions affect our ability to experience deep emotions, consider turning off your digital machine, before you become one yourself!

Published on: Oct 16, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.