Internet Brain is a Real Thing

We Need a Common Language to Talk About It

Brad Stulberg

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If you feel “off” more often than you’d like, you aren’t alone.

Many people do.

In my latest book, The Practice of Groundedness, I traced this general sense of dis-ease to a concept I called heroic individualism: an ongoing game of oneupmanship against yourself and others where the goalpost is always ten-yards down the field. Heroic individualism is a vicious spiral of go, go, go; more, more, more; nothing is ever enough. It is striving unhinged, the result of which is a frantic and frenetic lifestyle overflowing with busyness, restlessness, loneliness, and, eventually, emptiness. I argued that the root problem of heroic individualism is that we fail to properly ground ourselves with a solid foundation of habits and practices in our lives.

Since the book came out, something I hear frequently from readers is how helpful it has been to have not only ideas for the solution but also a name for the problem. Once you give something a name, it loses some of its power of you. You can identify when you are trapped in it. You can wrestle with it. You can discuss it with others.

It is in this vein that I’d like to propose a new term, which, for many people, is a key component of heroic individualism: internet brain.

Internet brain results from spending too much time on the internet. It manifests as an inability to focus for long periods of time; a strong desire to “check” something — be it social media, email, trending topics, or your favorite newspaper’s landing page — even, and perhaps especially, when you don’t actually want to; a constant feeling of adrenaline that is somewhere between excitement and anxiety; a lack of patience for anything that is inherently slow; and a significantly harder time being present in offline life, such as constantly needing to pick up your phone.

The culprit to internet brain? The mechanics of the internet itself.

The internet is one big dopamine machine. The whole enterprise is set up to give us quick and intermittent rewards whenever we want them. The most clear (and perhaps worst) offenders are the social media platforms, with their likes, comments, and retweets that reinforce our relevance and…

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Brad Stulberg

Bestselling author of Master of Change and The Practice of Groundedness