Are endless status updates and tweets changing the way we process information? Suzanne Morrow at dog digital looks at the psychology behind our growing social networking culture.
Computer games and social media is changing the way our minds work, that is according to one of the UK’s most eminent neuroscientist.
One of the UK’s most eminent brain boffins has warned that social networks and our wider predilection for technology is rewiring our brains, threatening the quality of our existence.
The deafening hum of internet static
Ex head of the Royal Institute, Lady Greenfield, has recently stated that, although the benefits of spending a lifetime in front of a computer screen can result in a higher IQ and a better memory, the increasing amount of time we spend on social networks, namely Twitter and Facebook, is altering how we think and changing the way we behave.
In children it’s causing an increase in Attention Deficit Disorder and the anti-hyperactivity drug, Ritalin, is being dished out like never before. Since the 1980’s the diagnosis of ADHA has risen by nearly 500%. A lot of the diagnoses are false.
Social media making us no longer able to empathise
Getting a high IQ from playing online games is certainly not a bad thing. Online gamers have to strategise, think quickly and rationalise their responses. The downside is that we get a generation of kids with bad eyes and short attention spans.
Lady Greenfield went on to point the finger of blame at social networks for hampering our ability to empathise with our fellow men.
I could argue that the opposite is also true. My friends list is full of people I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to keep in touch with, were it not for Facebook.
Sharing photos, status updates, it’s like a personalised village voice but without the common geography. It spurs on offline interaction, in most users I’m sure. The one thing it does do is definitely increases our ability to empathise with our fellow men and women.
It turns out the search engines are also making us less able to learn. It’s easy to type a query into a search bar without even thinking about it, passing over the reins of control to the search bots to do the grunt work. Give us all the information, all of the time and we come to expect it without working for it. We don’t want to do any of the research ourselves.
Meaningful links required
On the other hand hyperlinks make it easier to do research and give surfers more scope to look up terms, collect and cross-check data. Anyone who is doing their research is usually not simple-minded enough to believe the no.1 Google result is the word of God. If anything, more meaningful links are required. Between pages, sentences, real-world objects. Meaningful links. Back links. All of it.
With Twitter, Hoot Suite, Tweet Deck, email lists and my phone constantly bbbrrrriiing across the desk from (yet another) missed call, we are all overwhelmed by the information that’s constantly available to us.
Today. Let’s take today as an example. I received 106 emails, not counting junk e-mails, 5 text messages and 2 missed calls. It was a quiet day. Relatively quiet.
I savour the time I get to sit down and read a book, read a story, on paper, with no flashing orange boxes in my peripheral vision, no bings from Tweet deck or email newsletter intrusions. Sadly, it’s now a novelty.
When it comes to reading a story or a slightly longer news article, my concentration starts to drift after a few pages. I get fidgety, loose the thread, and have to drag my wayward brain back from the brink. Maybe it’s just me, maybe not but it feels like we’re all turning into internet goldfish.
Reading more than ever
We are actually reading more today than we have done during any other time in history. The style of Net copy is one that promotes efficiency and immediacy. It’s weakens our capacity to think deeply and turns us into decoders of information rather than deep thinkers. That has its own merits.
With the internet we have so many possible options that the time we spend on a site is measured in mere seconds, minutes only occasionally. Instead of sitting down and concentrating on one thing at a time and getting the most out of it, we flit between pages with what is tantamount to digital ADHD. It’s not just the kids that are suffering from it.
Attack of the killer gadgets
We’re our own worst enemies with this one too. How many pieces of technology do you carry around with you each day? Netbook? BlackBerry? iPod? iPad, perhaps? We go home to read books on iPads/Kindles, whilst talking on the phone, in homes filled with PCs and home entertainment systems. Simply the benefits of modern life I hear you say. Being rich probably plays a part.
Forget internet goldfish and the re-wiring of minds, we’re all just technology magpies.
By Suzanne Morrow
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