Is Social Media an Impediment to Problem Solving?



As I was roaming through the blogsphere, catching up on some of the news and notes I have missed in recent weeks, I read one of Jeremy Zawondy’s recent blog posts addressing a very similar topic. He poses the question does the convenience of having access to someone with answers inhibit people from thinking about and solving their own problems, when they know a quick email, twit, or IM will get them the answer without them having to make any real effort?

Many of the new Social Media websites seem to encourage this type of behavior. More specifically I am starting to see this type of behavior a lot on Twitter. I am not sure whether or not it is the law of averages or maybe even just the company I keep on the service? Maybe I interact with too many online marketers?

But it seems like as the list of people I follow grows, more and more I am seeing requests for superfluous information that could quickly be ascertained on their own in the same amount of time it would take someone else to twit back.

So the real question is with all this accessibility to others with knowledge, are people slowly losing the desire to solve their own problems? And does this loss of desire lead to a future lack of critical thinking when it does come to solving the more challenging questions? Or is it just my imagination? Is it useful to leverage social media when you need to remember the name of that search expert who wrote that book about online reputation management? What was his name again?

On that note, it seems to me the answer is yes, social media is enabling people to abandon their searching, critical thinking, and problem solving skills in favor of allowing their peers to assist them. I support this conclusion not only based on my own personal experience but also based on the types of technologies currently being produced. Social technologies like Twitter, Yahoo Answers, and even many online forums have become breeding grounds for these types of less than lack luster communications, yet many people are willing to answer these types of questions to feel helpful, join the conversation, or establish their own credentials.

So it seems to me social media is not only a facilitator for this type of interaction, in many cases it also encourages it. What do you think, is social media slowly impairing our problem solving skills? Or is this just one of the many little inherent negatives that goes along with all the positives social media has to offer?

  • http://insideconversation.wordpress.com Lee White

    I contend that easier access is not diminishing problem solving skills, just allowing us to approach problem solving (or decision making) in a different way.

    Problem solving really has two parts, gathering information and choosing among options. Social media enhances gathering, but choosing still belongs to those responsible for the problem. Choosing badly among better options still yields bad results, and bad results won’t get you far. So keep gathering the fastest, easiest way you can (and right now that may be social media) and spend more time making better choices.

    Lee

  • http://www.engage-digital.com Hugh Gage

    Before Twitter and Yahoo Answers, there was (and still is) Google groups and before that it was called something else.

    There have always been plenty of forums where people can seek and find answers. Twitter and Yahoo Answers have just made it easier and as Lee White points out quicker, but as far as I can see it amounts to the same thing – asking somebody else instead of doing the legwork oneself.

  • http://brants.wordpress.com manuscrypts

    well, no harm in getting solutions from the collective intelligence, if they’re better than one’s own solutions. also, doesn’t it depend on the level of problems? maybe, by outsourcing the time spent on ‘lower level’ problems to a collective consciousness, we are evolving to a higher level, thats capable of solving the larger riddles of life? :)

  • http://www.whatimnot.com Piper

    If the quality of some recent straight-A graduate co-workers is any indication, the Internet is having a a massively negative impact on the way some people solve problems. I made a very simple request of one recently, and three days later, there were no updates. When I asked her why, she said that no one had answered her on the forums where she asked for the answer.

    Worse yet, she was associating the company’s URL with her request. It took everything I had not to start screaming, “Has the Internet made you completely stupid??”

  • http://www.urbanchat.com jareau

    how do i get pass my school accces block because there using web sense to keep there stuff block

  • http://www.goodnightmoonfuton.com Futon-Matt

    I feel that the instant access to information has only taken the leg work out of forming a decision.

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  • http://www.marketingpilgrim.com Andy Beal

    Good discussion Roderick.

    We’ve always relied on the availability of information from others. Even “Googling” a question is relying on information someone else has put together.

    I’d also suspect you’re group of friends is somewhat different than most. As you mentioned, you move in marketing circles. For example, I’ll often ask a question on Twitter, that I could find the answer to elsewhere, but as a marketer there’s a benefit to engaging those that follow you.

  • http://realestatezebra.com Daniel, the Real Estate Zebra

    Social media hasn’t stopped me from solving my own problems. In many ways, it has made my problem-solving more efficient because it gives me access to options I might not have otherwise come up with on my own.

    Being in the real estate profession, most of my circle consists of other Realtors. This has proved very useful to me because real estate is local, that means that it is practiced differently in different markets. Interacting with other Realtors has given me ideas that might have taken me much longer to arrive at on my own. Are those ideas any less valuable because they came from someone else rather than through my own efforts? I don’t think so.

    Unless you sit in a completely empty room, totally alone, ideas and inspiration are always coming from external sources. Social media just seems to increase the access to those sources of ideas and inspiration.

  • http:/www.searchengineoptimizationjournal.com Search Engine Optimization Journal

    We can totally see where you are coming from in terms of diminishing critical thinking. The more and more we log onto Yahoo Answers, the more we see students from everywhere blatantly posting questions from their exams, projects, homework etc. with no desire to simply spend the 30 minutes to do the research themselves and actually learn. It’s all a double edged sword!

  • http://buzzmarketingfortech.blogspot.com Paul Dunay

    I don’t think so – in fact I think tools like Twitter aren’t inhibiting us from solving problems or using our own creative problem solving – but they are allowing us to crowdsource to get better answers.

  • http://www.engage-digital.com Hugh Gage

    Or provide better answers – Wikipedia

  • http://prosperitywriter.com/ Prosperity Writer

    it only means we have easier access to information we need. but still, the decision is ours to make.

  • Deirdre

    I think you are making the common problem solving error of identifying the problem based on personal experience.

    As our world of information expands, kids are expected to memorize/search for more and more facts and theories. Schools are spending less and less time on critical thinking/problem solving/creative thinking to accomodate the information overload.

    So we have a generation that are very good at quickly finding discreet pieces of information and more limited in their ability to use higher order thinking.

  • http://www.thevanblog.com Steven Bradley

    Interesting discussion Roderick. I can understand you’re thinking, but I don’t believe social media automatically leads to a lack of critical thinking.

    There will always be some who prefer to find information themselves and there will always be some who ask others for the information. In the end we all still have to make our own decisions on what we think is right and wrong.

    The internet in general allows us to have access to more information quickly than we’ve ever had before. With so many sources of information and answers the skill is in deciding which source to trust. That requires more than a single source.

    You might sooner trust a person that has shown they are a good source. So if in the past Bob has shown to be an expert in automotive repair I might ask him my automotive repair question to save me time on that particular query. It might also be a subject where I’m not all that interested in learning more.

    Bob then may ask me questions about web development because he knows I’ve put in the time there and he’s not interested in becoming the expert when it comes to web development.

    We’re still all solving problems and thinking critically in general, but we can still lean on others for solutions in specific areas.

  • http://www.trbr.net Seomotion

    We need easy access to information we need. Social media gives us this possibility. And it is very good.

  • http://learningseobasics.com spostareduro

    I think that the lazy brain concept can be lloked at differently. Tweets, IMs and the like are a form of education for researching with assistance. Sometimes, especially being a newbie to SEO for example, others that we are following may have a better understanding of the topic we are examining, making them a prime source of aid to send us in he right direction.

    Am I offbase? Did my neck blow a bubble?

  • http://learningseobasics.com spostareduro

    oops..meant to say “looked at differently”

  • http://www.greatpriceshere.com Nicole

    Having information spoonfed does spoil you. It would make your mind rust. That said, reinventing the wheel is not desirable either. So if someone else has already done what you need to do, get him to give it to you. The deciding factors here would be the amount of time required to get he information yourself, the degree of specialization in the field etc etc.

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  • http://lowtechtimes.com S.P. Gass

    Great post! I’ll probably link to it from my blog later this week or next.

    Similar to your theory in terms of hi-tech networking solutions diminishing critical thinking, I wrote a post on my blog earlier this year on GPS Navigation systems: http://lowtechtimes.com/2008/01/16/three-problems-with-gps-navigation-systems/

    Shouldn’t people learn their own way around without having a voice tell them their every move?

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  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis

    In the age of the information superhighway we have truly come to expect answers and directions when we need it, which is usual right away.

    Like some have mentioned before, in the past before social networks, before the internet, you called someone who knew. Before that, you ask your dad or the local elder.

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  • http://www.gospelpals.com Hillar Jones

    Good point. However some social networking sites are meant exactly for that – to help people solve problems, especially spiritually while also offering a social networking environment. Thats what http://www.gospelpals.com tries to do anyway.

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