Social Networking Dissolves Your Brain (riiiiiight…)

February 25, 2009 at 11:50 am 5 comments

myth-brain-on-sns-copy…and other outrageous claims from the out-of-touch.

I saw Lady Susan Greenfield’s comments on the effects of social networking via the New York Times LEDE  Blog yesterday, as her analysis has been a popular topic across the web.  TechCrunch’s Sarah Lacy had a response that mirrors my own: “I’m wondering if Lady Greenfield has ever used a social networking site.”  You can see my liberal, artistic interpertation above.  The LEDE blog I mentioned provides a good overview of Greenfield’s remarks; here are two direct quotes that stuck out to me:

“My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing 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. […] 

Real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitized and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.”

You can see her speak directly on YouTube (admittedly without any context provided to support or explain her responses.)

As I commented on The Washington Post’s site, Greenfield’s analysis leaves me thinking, “what, huh?”

I’d agree with Greenfield to the extent that anything in excess is unhealthy, be it running, eating, social networking, drinking or reading.  Pretty much anything you can add an “ing” to isn’t healthy or recommended in excessive, life-absorbing capacities.  Point taken.  I would expect a youth who did nothing but stare at a computer screen all day everyday to have an infantile brain, and I would expect the same inappropriate development in a kid who stared at a single tree all day.  It’s not that the computer screen or the tree is hurting the child, but that the child is obsessing over both in entirely unnatural, problematic ways.   

However, Greenfield’s concern over the implications of real time communication are completely illogical.  When speaking to her friends face-to-face or on the phone, does Greenfield not communicate in real time?  Does she take breaks between sentences to think up the “clever or witty responses” she esteems? The beauty of Web 2.0 is that the speed of communication has made it much more like “real-life” offline, but with the potential to interact with friends and ideas from around the world, unlimited by geographic location.  I think she might also be surprised by the plethora of clever, witty material available through these mediums. (I can already imagine a Saturday Night Live Really!? segment featuring Seth’s thoughts on Greenfield).   Greenfield seems to be calling for a slowdown in the communication process, but I am unsure what she would prefer since one of the earliest means of communication: face-to-face, verbal communication is still the fastest method around.  

There is so much to learn and study about the impact of social networking, but extreme positions unsupported by data aren’t helpful to any side of the social networking conversation.   Greenfield’s obvious ignorance about the intrcacies of social media make it hard to take her too seriously.  

(Graphic created by adapting image found here)

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Entry filed under: Current Events, For Laughs, Kids, Learning, News, Social Media, Social Networks, Technology, Youth. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Young Minds Digital Times Winners Announced! Risky Behavior Sharing in Social Networks

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Amy Looper  |  February 25, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    It is a sad thing to put these kinds of comments out without evidence-based proof. The digital natives I speak with will be the first to to tell adults who think they spend too much time with technology that they go to school for 6 to 8 hours a day interacting face to face without using their technology!

  • 2. Beth Carls  |  February 25, 2009 at 6:15 pm

    The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation released a study in November, 2008 titled “Living and Learning with Social Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project”. In their 3-year study completed by some of the most experienced experts in the field of digital media and youth, they summarized that time spent online important for teen development.

    It’s a very well done study and I won’t go into all the detail here but suffice to say that the findings were quite different from the ones you reported by Lady Greenfield. You can see the 2-page Executive Summary here.

  • […] process of teens, and that many parents do not understand the ways youth interact online.  (Yesterday’s post about Lady Susan Greenfield comes to mind).  This group of researchers took the time to engage with youth about their online […]

  • 4. Kay Sanford  |  February 26, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Love your insider response to Greenfield’s outsider’s out-of-touch perspective! As a boomer myself, I think Greenfield must feel “threatened” by the new technologies and social networks.

  • […] anticipated (by me at least!) response to two stories I’ve posted about in the last week:  social networking making us dumber and measuring friends on Facebook.  She’s right on too. “The bigger issue is that […]


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