Let Them Tweet Cake

from the the-baroness-does-not-approve dept

Butcherer79 points us to the latest voice in the Twitter-is-poisoning-our-children-or-something chorus: the eminent neurophysiologist Baroness Susan Greenfield, who has come out with a firm yeah-it-totally-is-I-bet stance. If there’s a more suitable name for an arrogant Luddite than “Baroness Greenfield” I haven’t heard it, and that combined with her overly condescending proclamations makes it hard to take her thoughts on Twitter seriously:

“What concerns me is the banality of so much that goes out on Twitter. Why should someone be interested in what someone else has had for breakfast? … It reminds me of a small child (saying): ‘Look at me Mummy, I’m doing this’, ‘Look at me Mummy I’m doing that’ … It’s almost as if they’re in some kind of identity crisis. In a sense it?s keeping the brain in a sort of time warp.”

It seems like every time we think the “what you had for breakfast” hydra is slain, it rears another head. Anyone who still thinks such “banality” defines Twitter is clearly making their assessment based on bitter third-hand descriptions passed around the water cooler or, in this case, the House of Lords. The statement is reminiscent of one she made last year after noting that video games and “fast-paced TV shows” were also a factor:

‘We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist,’ she told the Mail yesterday. ‘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.’

That’s what the Baroness really takes issue with: the way modern technology is “rewiring” our brains and altering fundamental cognitive patterns. She’s not alone, of course: Techdirt recently covered another set of claims about our “rewired” brains, and the media love these stories.

While it is undoubtedly true that our brains adapt to the way we communicate (use of the word “rewire” is misleading at best), the flaw in all these arguments is the assumption that this is somehow bad or even unusual. The entire history of progress has involved changing emphases on various skills. The Baroness made this point extremely well herself, though she seemed to think she was supporting her own position:

‘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.’

I think from this we can begin to understand her a little better. In her world, digital communication is a distraction from real life—you know, just like supermarkets. One wonders if she avoids working by electric light and shits out the window, too. And you know what? There may well be a valid psychological or perhaps even neurological argument for humans getting back in touch with their roots—but while I’m sure it’s lots of fun to entertain those arguments, most of us don’t have that luxury.

Of course, Baroness Greenfield is no stranger to exaggeration. She made headlines last September when, in a stunning display of ironically wrongheaded hyperbole, she compared Stephen Hawking to the Taliban for denying the existence of God (don’t bother trying to figure out how that makes sense). Meanwhile, her crusade against the-kids-these-days has been going on for years—in 2006 she signed an open letter to the Telegraph on the subject penned by fellow techno-panicker Sue Palmer, and also decided to examine the issue with an all-party group in the House of Lords. It consisted of herself and “three former education secretaries, Baroness Williams, Baroness Shephard and Baroness Morris”—a roster that would sound more encouraging for a fetish party than for a group dedicated to exploring new technologies.

The Baroness is no doubt a skilled neurophysiologist, but she seems to be drawing bold and broad sociological conclusions based more on instinct than evidence. Worse still, she apparently takes it as granted that any changes are bad, as if the dynamic nature of our identity and our relationship with our environment is not the very essence of being alive. I’m getting philosophical, I know, but perhaps a little fresh philosophy is exactly what Baroness Greenfield needs—she seems to be stuck in the past.

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Comments on “Let Them Tweet Cake”

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72 Comments
Gabriel Tane (profile) says:

If SHE doesn't...

” One wonders if she avoids working by electric light and shits out the window, too.” (emph. added)

…she might just advocate it. I wouldn’t have mentioned this if I didn’t know about it from my good friends at Cracked. I?m not saying she does advocate this? just that it exists and is therefore a possibility.

Do yourself a favor and just skip to number 3. I’m not responsible for any mental damage from reading the rest of that list.

http://www.cracked.com/article_19344_6-progressive-parenting-fads-you-wont-believe-are-legal_p2.html

Eric Reasons (profile) says:

3 Things...

I have to leave the same comment here that I did over on google+ when I first saw this story.

OK, three things:

1) It’s named “The Daily Mail”. May as well be the Daily Town Crier, or the Daily Cave Painting.

2) I’m not sure I can trust anyone named “The Baroness”. I grew up with G.I.Joe.

3) How many times do we have to see legacy media backlash against technological advances, and how it’s “making us dumber”. It’s the same rehashed Theuth and Thamus for the past 2500 years, and the disrupted establishment has been proven wrong each and every time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Nope, just someone who respects a person’s title, no matter how foolish it may appear. I mean, what, Marcus is now a “writer published in a well known Tech online blog thing”, I have to respect him for that, right?

You on the other hand, well… nothing like someone who can disrespectfully attribute something to me that I didn’t say. Did you learn that from Mike?

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“Nope, just someone who respects a person’s title, no matter how foolish it may appear.”

The rest of us feel that if someone came up to us and said: “I am The Great Umperial Pontifex Smith”, we would laugh at them because it’s foolish. But if you want to bow down before the number of syllables a backwards system of government has put before their name, feel free.

Dark Helmet (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

“You on the other hand, well… nothing like someone who can disrespectfully attribute something to me that I didn’t say. Did you learn that from Mike?”

Yeah, there’s actually regular classes that Mike teaches. Curriculum includes:

1. How to disrespectfully attribute something to someone who didn’t say it

2. “Heh” and other monosylabic methods for expressing wry humor

3. The benefits of extreme communist-capitalist-social-tyranny and how to push it onto an unsuspecting internet community

4. Home Economics

5. Recess

6. Not quitting your day job 101

7. Writing stories that only work for famous/unknown artists

8. Dismissal

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Can't Decide

Considering the latest revolutions and political movements are happening on the social media, specially over twitter, she has no clue about the world and should be educated. So yes, this line is EPIC.

Took me quite some time to get into twitter because I also thought at first that it was a stupid trend that would soon die. Then I noticed the political power of it and joined the boat. Seeing heavy weights from the tech, financial, social etc worlds waging verbal, moral, technical etc wars on twitter along with popular movements is just plain awesome. If anything, kids can get lots of knowledge that society is eager to deny them nowadays.

gigglehurtz (profile) says:

I have a friend who truly believes that the rapid advancement of technology is destroying society. And the reason he believes that is because he can’t keep up with it. Because he can’t keep up, it must be bad. What folks like this never seem to understand or accept is that the world of the past they’re comfortable is the result of things changing.

The changing world is not the problem. Your inability to adapt to it is.

PrometheeFeu (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Most of them people don’t seem to realize how much technological change they are benefiting from in the background. Technology is not just computers, medicines and cellphones. It’s also new better methods or making yogurts, more effective ball bearings, etc…

To be fair, from one point of view, your friend is right. Technology is changing society which can be rephrased as destroying an old society and creating a new one.

Morgenstern says:

Re: Stupid and short-sighted

Gigglehurtz is right. The changing world is not the problem. But gigglehurtz’s inability to properly understand how it is change is a problem. Technology is not some neutral entity. Every technology produces actions and reactions that may be beneficial or harmful, meaning that gigglehurtz’s worshiping of technology makes him very similar to a religious fanatic who cannot think beyond the confines of a constructed reality. In this case, gigglehurtz has built his reality on the back of his belief that technology is infallible, which is stupid. Stop acting like technology is a religion, and stop being such a fanatical idiot about it.

Marcus Carab (profile) says:

Re: Re: Stupid and short-sighted

Technology is not some neutral entity.

Yes. Yes it absolutely is. Technology has no consciousness, no awareness, no intentions, no purposes – it is entirely neutral.

What people do with that technology, how we incorporate it into society, can be good or bad. But the technology itself is neutral.

Joe Publius (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Stupid and short-sighted

Technology has no consciousness, no awareness, no intentions, no purposes – it is entirely neutral.

Spoken like someone who’s never had their phone sabotage a text message with “auto-corrections”.

I’m pretty sure my phone is out to portray me to my wife and friends as some sort of deviant.

Josh in CharlotteNC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Stupid and short-sighted

I’m pretty sure my phone is out to portray me to my wife and friends as some sort of deviant.

The phone may be trying to change society’s concept of “deviants” for the better.

It may also be offering “deviants” who wish to disguise themselves from society an acceptable excuse for momentary slips.

Auto-correct for social change!

slowpoke says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Stupid and short-sighted

Spoken like someone who’s never had their phone sabotage a text message with “auto-corrections”.

Except that is an application of technology. The technology behind that application is (most likely) some combination of text parsing, pattern recognition and string manipulation – which are, again, completely neutral.

I like to make an analogy to nuclear fission in these cases. On itself, it (quoting Marcus) has no consciousness, no awareness, no intentions, no purposes. However, you can do both good and bad things with nuclear fission, ie you apply the technology to purpose. That purpose could, for example, be generating energy – you just build a nuclear reactor. It could also be destroying stuff – you just invented the nuke.

Both the reactor and the nuke are applications of nuclear fission. Those you can judge, but not nuclear fission itself. The same goes for your auto correction. You can judge it, but you cannot judge the underlying technologies.

gigglehurtz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Stupid and short-sighted

Thanks nasch. I actually had to go back and re-read what I said to see if I might have implied that.

I do find it interesting that Morgenstern presents an argument that could have come directly from the friend I was speaking of. I don’t think I would want to drink beer with both of them at the same time.

And he is correct about one thing about me. I really don’t understand how change is a problem. You can point out specific instances or examples of change that suck to you, to be sure, and I might agree on some of them. But in general, change is what makes the world so fascinating as far as I’m concerned.

Prisoner 201 says:

Re: Re: Stupid and short-sighted

“Gigglehurtz is right. The changing world is not the problem. But gigglehurtz’s inability to properly understand how it is change is a problem. A stone is not some neutral entity. Every stone produces actions and reactions that may be beneficial or harmful, meaning that gigglehurtz’s worshiping of stones makes him very similar to a religious fanatic who cannot think beyond the confines of a constructed reality. In this case, gigglehurtz has built his reality on the back of his belief that a stone is infallible, which is stupid. Stop acting like a stone is a religion, and stop being such a fanatical idiot about it.”

Edited to illustrate the collossal stupidity of your post. Technology is no more good or evil than a stone – an evil man will bash someones head in with it, while a good man will build a house with it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Different Take

I can understand where someone could come to the conclusion that tweeting about eggs for breakfast is a way for a person to be like a small child, however, I think these ‘experts’ are missing the larger picture.

First, all of this newer technology is exposing people that may not previously had a chance to interact with society a chance to feel normal.

My middle child is MR. Back in the 80’s the family would have purchased a farm in the country, kept the kid on the farm, and never let them out. No contact with society, no experiences in the real world.

Although the online world isn’t ‘real world’, it still offers experiences and learning opportunities to those that may never have had them before.

Another aspect of this is with so many people being online, and all of them wanting their 15 min of fame (who doesn’t want that), when people are in the Real World, they are looking at the people around them totally differently. They are more accepting of the differences in people to their face, even if they go online and express differently. One example of this is going out into the real world only to find ‘someone doing something stupid to find something funny to talk about online’.

As far as the facebook check-in and status updates, well, those are generally directed at someone specific. It could be a female that is showing exactly where they are at so the love of their life will show up there. It could be an ex that is posting what they are doing to prove they are better off without the other person. It could be someone that is stating they are eating eggs, when they would rather be eating steak, and they are hoping to provoke a response from someone in their follower base to say “hey, let’s go get steak”.

A lot of these people were unheard of prior to twittertime. They were the ones in their rooms, feeling alone, abused, headphones on, scribbling in diaries…some ended it with a shotgun to their heads. Now, maybe some can express, get support, and live fuller lives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Twitter doesn't hurt anyone

But twitter is really stupid. And I’m not exactly a luddite.. I’ve been online since my BBS days on my 386SX.

I honestly do think people who post every little thing they do all day are being narcissistic… then again humans tend to be narcissistic

Still, never found any use for twitter… It’s like facebook or google plus with a character limit

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Twitter doesn't hurt anyone

I have to concur, but in a different way: Twitter AND Facebook AND all of these are stupid. NOT because I can’t keep up with them, thank you very much, I’ve got a long history of living on the bleeding edge, and NOT because they’re largely expressions of banal self-importance (although that’s true), but because they’re walled gardens — they repeat the mistakes of the old AOL. If you want to build communities, if you want to interact, then do it out here on the open Internet…not in an unimportant backwater like Twitter or Facebook.

Jeffrey Nonken (profile) says:

The good ol' days

Used to be a time when we knew everything there was to know about the world, and many of us would hide in our homes or monasteries and let the world run itself. Anything beyond about 7 miles away was stories and legend. (I’m speaking metaphorically, of course, of the past.)

Of course we had bad teeth and bad food and worse health and would die young of nasty incurable things like measles and infections and so on. Work all day every day without a break just to survive. No indoor plumbing. No hot showers. No heat in the outhouse.

Fun stuff like that.

Hmm. Come to think of it, even the outhouses were a life-changing technological advancement. As was the plow, for example. Shovels and hoes and rakes. These have all changed what we are. Maybe what she really means is that we need to give it all up. Clothes. Farming. Houses. Toothbrushes. OB/GYNs. Live as nature intended: dirty, squalid, diseased, cold and hungry.

Good stuff, Maynard? No? Hmm. Didn’t think so.

As for the fetish reference, it’s an amusing point, and yet… I can’t help but feel like that’s skirting a bit close to ad hominem. Just sayin’.

hmm (profile) says:

Lies! all Lies!

Of COURSE Baroness Greenfield doesn’t shit out the window.

She’s a very hard working lady. She has to get up early every morning, make her way to the printing offices and shit all over the presses in time for the morning edition.

Then she shits into the mouths of anyone stupid enough to pay attention to her, followed by her lunchtime shit all over anyone that would be retarded enough to allow her anywhere NEAR their children…..

Occasionally she allows herself a treat and shits all over democracy and common sense, but this is a philosophical shit rather than the runny mess that usually emits from her gaping, drooling mouth.

Butcherer79 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I should think that labelling all changes either good or bad is inherantly incorrect.
Any change, presumably, would be both good and bad in various degrees, the relative ‘scores’ for good or bad would be different with everyone who assesses said change, and if the good outwieghs the bad, the change is good. Still, it’s only an opinion.
I’m sure there will be examples of what people will think are only ‘good’ or ‘bad’ changes, however, I still think someone will contradict these on grounds of personal gain, either monetarily, physically or mentally, which is really how we all judge in the end…
Cynical maybe but a summer cold will make you that way sometimes…

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