And Now Facebook And Twitter Will Melt Your Mind

from the evidence-please? dept

It's been quite a week or so for people with fancy titles and no actual evidence to spout off about just how evil and dangerous social networks are. First, there was the totally ridiculous claim that Facebook could increase your likelihood of cancer. Then, there was the news that using Twitter meant you had no identity, and now a "professor of synaptic pharmacology" is claiming that Facebook and Twitter are threatening to "infantalize" our brains. This is based on what... exactly? Well, it appears nothing more than a hunch. There isn't any actual evidence presented, and some of the facts appear to just be wrong. For example, she claims that these services mean kids read fewer books, and that means they'll empathize less. Well, there are a couple problems with that... such as the recent research that showed that people are reading more books than in the past. And... I'm curious as to the proof that actually communicating with real human beings online is less likely to create empathy than reading fictional books?

Oddly, while she complains about less empathy due to less reading, she then complains about people showing empathy via social networks, saying that social networks encourage bad behavior by providing people "constant reassurance -- that you are listened to, recognised, and important." Confused? You're not the only one. Then she pulls out the same old line that's been trotted out for years about how since these interactions are all online (gasp!) they seem to count less... and somehow that will lead people to no longer want to interact in person. This is an argument we've heard for over 15 years online, and it's never been supported by the slightest evidence to back it up. Most people who actually use the internet to communicate have found that it's increased opportunities to meet and talk to people in person, not diminished them. It's amazing how many experts can be trotted out who so fear a technology it's clear they've not really used it very much.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Infantalizer, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 9:39am

    goo goo ga ga

    meh baby brain can't handle news, comments, thoughts...must read Tom Sawyer and classics more...

     

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  •  
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    antisocial, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 9:55am

    only losers use computers

    Everyone knows that people who do things with a computer are all anti-social (even sociopathic) nerds, living in their parents basement, hacking away. That's why online activities have less merit than meatspace.

     

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    Osno, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:11am

    I thought social networks made teenage girls depressed. How "constant reassurance" do that??

     

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    James Pyles, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:14am

    Social networking can create more empathy

    I agree with the points presented in this article and suggest that people can become more empathetic as a result of social networks, rather than less. A generation ago, to have a conversation with someone in another country, halfway around the world, you either had to use the telephone or write a letter. That meant you had to have some prior knowledge of that person and learned their contact information.

    Thanks for the Internet in general and social networking in specific, we all now have potential access to anyone who belongs to the same network service/application (Facebook, twitter, and so on). That means I can access people all over the world and gain insights into their experiences with relatively no foreknowledge of them and almost no effort expended on my part. I can realize how much alike we are in our concerns and dreams, rather than seeing them as people too far away to care about.

    As far as needing and getting constant feedback and assurance that I'm significant via social networking, while I can see some people using these services to those ends, it's also a method of channelled information input. We can choose our "friends" and who we follow, moulding the stream of information we take in and, if we choose, sharing what's important to us with those who have connected to us.

    Any technology can be abused and overemphasized in a person's life, but it doesn't mean the technology caused those deficiencies.

    BTW, while I spend a fair amount of time online, both professionally and personally, I also read quite a bit and, as an author, I also write "the old fashioned way"

     

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    Anshar, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:16am

    Online socializing worked for me!

    I met my wife online. Not a dating site, just socializing. We've been married for 6 years now and going strong. I'm just saying...

     

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      f2point8, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:25am

      Re: Online socializing worked for me!

      @Anshar, obviously you are a crazed, illiterate psychopath with not a dram of empathy in your body. Everybody knows about people meeting from on-line connections--they're just kidnapping pedophiles and father rapers.

       

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    Baby John, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:29am

    Goo goo?

    Goo goo gah gah? Facebook! Cooooo!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:32am

    empathy

    "I'm curious as to the proof that actually communicating with real human beings online is less likely to create empathy than reading fictional books? "

    I think the idea that stuff in the first person especially exposes children to world literally through anothers point of view. I dont think "chat" or interpersonal communication provides the same sort of "inside-out" view point benefits. I dont agree with the study and I think inter personal communication have thier own benefits (including digital com) but I can see the difference.

     

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    identicon
    ( ・-・), Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:40am

    Ahem.

    You're an idiot. I stopped reading when you cited the "study" which concluded that kids are reading more than they were in the past. Okay. Which kids? The majority of those hooked on inane social networking services? A minority of these kids? Most likely the latter -- not to mention the millions of teenagers who (smartly) help themselves against slaving away like a zombie for their goddess "f5".

    Also, there is absolutely no significance to the fact that the rest of these kids are "reading more". Simple synthesis of pages and pages of mundane texts (pop-psychology and 'Sisterhood Of the Traveling Pants', anyone?) doesn't say a thing for intelligence. It means nothing special that some twit can stare at a book for hours in meager comprehension, spending the other half of their day perusing "friends'" profiles and exercising an astoundingly ape-like vocabulary.

    It's perfectly logical to assume that online social networks butcher a teenager's ability to empathize with his or her peers. I mean, what is the most rife feature of any American high school? And what do you get when you put these same kids in electronic contact with each other on sites that allow them to mimic a physical social construct? That's right; cliques, short-tempered idiocy, pointless joking, mocking of inferiors, superficiality, zero creativity, etc. Where's the room for genuine compassion? What gives these kids a chance to express themselves in a more meaningful way than with boxes labeled "About me", "My favorite x", "My favorite y", and "Who I'd like to meet"?

    I'm not going to write any more. You get the fucking idea.

     

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      Dustin, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:00am

      Re: Ahem.

      I agree with your summation. I will further add that these same kids also carry a sense of entitlement that is frightening to be honest. I am 24 and my average peer has had their intelligence wither away since leaving school, but their sense of entitlement has grown. They do not read more, they read less. Further, most of what they read is complete and total garbage that does very little, if anything to contribute to their actual intellectual, deliberative capacity. I would contend that habitual ingestion of all this rubbish severely limits their intellect, taking an especially severe toll on their written and spoken word.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:06am

      Re: Ahem.

      "'Sisterhood Of the Traveling Pants', anyone?) doesn't say a thing for intelligence. It means nothing special that some twit can stare at a book for hours in meager comprehension, spending the other half of their day perusing "friends'" profiles and exercising an astoundingly ape-like vocabulary."

      I am in full support of dumbing down our teenagers. Remember less education today, means less competition tomorrow.

       

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    •  
      identicon
      Anshar, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:08am

      Re: Ahem.

      Let me see if I've got this straight:
      You start of by calling names.
      Next, you admit that you stopped reading when you came across something with which you disagreed.
      You claim that the article's sources are incorrect without citing any sources of your own to substantiate that claim.
      Instead of proof, you offer only your own point of view.
      Finally you end with profanity.
      From this we are expected to believe that you have a better understanding of empathy and social interaction than the article's author or any of the sources cited by him.
      I have already given your post all due consideration and I put greater stock in the original author's position than I do in yours.

       

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      •  
        identicon
        ( ・-・), Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:22am

        Re: Re: Ahem.

        Fuck you. That's right: Fuck you.

         

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        •  
          identicon
          ( ・-・), Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:29am

          Re: Re: Re: Ahem.

          For the record, I stopped reading because I was struck by an overwhelming conviction that the rest of his article would be worthless drivel. I suppose some people are alright with eating shit.... But I for one don't particularly enjoy the taste.

           

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          •  
            identicon
            Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 1:46pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Ahem.

            OMGWTF! ROFLMAO! You gotz pwned! Epic FAIL!

            Are you sure you don't enjoy the taste of shit? That is all that is coming out of your mouth.....

             

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              identicon
              ( ・-・), Feb 25th, 2009 @ 3:19pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Ahem.

              Ah, a 4channer never misses the chance to exemplify their intelligence by attempting to show more than they have.

               

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      •  
        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 2:22pm

        Re: Re: Ahem.

        Facebook causes cancer
        Looks like the original has no sources either, but strong opinion and a title of Baroness ...

         

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    •  
      identicon
      Chronno S. Trigger, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 1:19pm

      Re: Ahem.

      "It's perfectly logical to assume that online social networks butcher a teenager's ability to empathize with his or her peers. I mean, what is the most rife feature of any American high school? And what do you get when you put these same kids in electronic contact with each other on sites that allow them to mimic a physical social construct? That's right; cliques, short-tempered idiocy, pointless joking, mocking of inferiors, superficiality, zero creativity, etc. Where's the room for genuine compassion? What gives these kids a chance to express themselves in a more meaningful way than with boxes labeled "About me", "My favorite x", "My favorite y", and "Who I'd like to meet"?"

      I'm going to say it, how is this any different from high school before the Internet?

      When I was in high school everyone had to go to the library to use this amazing new thing called Yahoo. I seem to remember people back then without social skills and could barely read. We didn't call them social networking users, we called them football players and cheerleaders.

      People had problems with "cliques, short-tempered idiocy, pointless joking, mocking of inferiors, superficiality, zero creativity, etc." long before the Internet.

       

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    identicon
    The i-Team, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 10:42am

    For more on this...

    Check out Ben Goldacre's Bad Science" blog... He also was on Newsnight here in the UK last night rebuffing the statements. The woman scientist mentioned above is in the intro basically stating the fact there's no evidence but we should be worried anyway....

     

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    identicon
    Daniel Stern, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:00am

    Something to consider

    While the veracity of this seemingly prejudiced study doesn't seem steadfast, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't take a serious look at the potential negative effects on neurofunctioning through use of technology.

    I recently read iBrain by Gary Small, and I strongly recommend reading it as a primer for the potential side effects of excessive use of technology.

    The old adage applies... everything in moderation. I think social networks have the potential to push people beyond moderate use.

     

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    Jack Black, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 11:12am

    Melt my mind?

    From the title I thought the sites were going to start offering rockin' tunes to download. Bummer.

     

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    Dave, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 2:22pm

    hulu

    I thought hulu.com was what was turning our brains into mush?

    Got to say I'd rather teenagers were on facebook than on 8-mile.

     

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    identicon
    The infamous Joe, Feb 25th, 2009 @ 5:32pm

    Courtesy

    Just a friendly reminder: don't feed the trolls!

    Recently in the Pirate Bay trial the Prosecution asked if the defendants had ever met IRL (That's In Real Life, for those of you playing at home!) and the defendant replied that they don't use that term, becuase it's all Real Life, that they use the term AFK instead. (Away from Keyboard)

    I think that's the trouble-- so many misguided people started out thinking that online = not real, and now they're having to unlearn their bad habits. (Insert a phrase about aged dogs and new tricks here)

     

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    identicon
    Josh, Feb 27th, 2009 @ 3:32pm

    ... interesting

    facebook + tweeter will infantalize my brain? no they wont, dumped fb long time ago! Go for something more professional like linkedin or cestagi ... and stay with tweeter cuz its fun!

     

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    identicon
    me, Mar 3rd, 2009 @ 8:06am

    What is *does* enable is for snarky kid twits like Masnick (now isn't that a name right out of MAD magazine) to flourish.

    >Confused? You're not the only one.
    No shit. Your blinders immediately came up and what small excuse you have for a brain closes.

    Tell us Mikey, what the fuck have you ever accomplished?

     

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