You may have thought that the headline should read “Social Media Changes Minds” because of all the wonderful things that social media adds to our lives (I’ll let you determine what wonderful things it does for you). But across the pond there’s concern that social media is actually changing the brains of young users. Of course, this story wouldn’t be any fun if it was simply saying that the kids are getting smarter and smarter because of endless hours in front of a screen while forming ‘relationships’ (more on this one later). Au contraire! Apparently the brains of young folks are, in effect, being rewired by these kinds of interactions and this rewiring is not a positive thing.
Oxford University neuroscientist Susan Greenfield tells the world in the Daily Mail that more parents are finding their kids don’t communicate well and have difficulty concentrating away from their screens. The flattering assessment of social media continues with information like
Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.
I think this may be happening to folks of all ages. The difference is that the impact on a child’s brain is more profound because it is still developing whereas an adult brain is already developed. Adult behavior that changes is just that; a behavior that can change. The fear is that developing brains can actually be altered because of this MTV generation on steroids approach to media. Lady Greenfield continues by saying:
‘It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations,’ she said.
My fear is that these technologies are infantilising the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.
‘I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,’ she said.
So there is little doubt that the manner in which we interact is being changed by the Internet. Most of the coverage has been about the evolution of our ability to communicate with more and more people. One could argue that our communication is becoming an inch deep and a mile wide but that makes sense in a world that too often values quantity over quality.
So what is it Pilgrims? Are we becoming a society that is mistaking typed interactions with our virtual friends for what once defined a real relationship like face to face conversation, a handshake, a phone call and even spending extended time in the direct presence of another person? Are your online relationships as real as traditional ones? Let’s talk about it around the warm glow of the comment fire. Pass the virtual marshmallows!