The dark side of social media: Baroness Susan Greenfield says social media is rewiring our brains
Nov 17, 2014
WE’RE all guilty of it. We’re at the pub, dinner table or enjoying a fun arvo with a group of friends and, instead of talking to the people we’re with, we’re preoccupied with our phones.
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, video games and — dare I say it — news.com.au all provide endless distractions, as well as more opportunities to share, connect and spout your views than ever before.
But what effect is this having on us? More crucially, how is it affecting our brains?
Renowned British neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield says modern technology is not only changing the way we interact, it is changing the wiring in our brain.
Professor Greenfield, who is also a member of the British upper house, says the hyper-connectedness of today’s youth gives them shorter attention spans and makes them more narcissistic, more susceptible to depression and anxiety, and less empathetic.
“The mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity,” she told parliament in 2009.
Her interest in the subject has culminated in her book Mind Change, released in August, in which she argues:
● That social media is affecting our sense of identity and ability to empathise,
● That video games are shortening attention spans, and increasing our recklessness and aggression, and
● That search engines are making us confuse information for knowledge.
Prof Greenfield says that the brain is exquisitely designed to adapt to its environment and, because technology has created a vastly changed social environment, it follows that our brains may also being changing in an unprecedented way.
“Human beings love talking about themselves. Nature has developed body language so you can be sure that your interaction is reasonably secure, and you don’t make yourself vulnerable, through eye contact, gestures and pheromones,” Prof Greenfield told news.com.au.
But words — the primary means through which people interact on social media — make up only 10 per cent of the impact made when you meet someone.
“If you are not rehearsing those visual clues, you are going to be at a disadvantage,” Prof Greenfield said.
She said people were much more likely to insult others online because they didn’t have those cues.
“If someone says ‘I hate you’ to someone’s face, they may not say it again because the way it makes that person feel may be extremely hurtful, which can give the person who said it a physiological churning,” Prof Greenfield said.
“Those constraints are not available on social networking. You don’t have that handbrake … That’s what I’m concerned about.”
[hat tip: Neil Sanders]
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