The relentless bombardment of video, music and information online could permanently alter our brains and trigger neurological disorders, according to an eminent neurologist.
With Western children spending more than six hours a day sat in front of a screen, Baroness Susan Greenfield told the Gartner Identity and Access Management Summit that it's no coincidence an increasing number of children are being treated for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The brain is susceptible to being reshaped by our experiences, she said, citing a recent study that found London cabbies who memorised the streets of the capital displayed significant growth in the hippocampus, an area of the brain connected with memory.
Describing the online world, Greenfield added: "You are living in a child-like world of actions and sensations that do not mean anything other than what you see is what you get."
"Screen thinking is strongly sensational, short in span, has no conceptual framework, no metaphors and favours process over concept," she said.
Greenfield said that relationships forged in the "computer world", through social networks and multiplayer environments such as Second Life, are "intruding on the full spectrum of human relationships".
"Autistic people are very comfortable in the computer world because relationships do not depend on the tone of the voice, body language or pheromones. It is literally what you see is what you get," she said.
"I wonder, given the malleability of the brain, whether this is responsible for the rise in autism," Greenfield said.
Unless action is taken, people's sense of personal identity may be eroded or destroyed by a fixation on the quick rewards of the Internet, Greenfield said.