How Social Media Is Ruining Your Mind

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The ongoing creation of Web 2.0 has transformed the average internet denizen into a strange hybrid of producer and consumer. Everyone is now a ‘prosumer‘, and this new role is apparently very addictive. Social media pushes its users into states of continued stimulus and communication, with a system that rewards obsessively-frequent checking and updating. Enterprising scientists are tracking the effects of social media on the human brain and human behavior. They’ve begun to notice some interesting trends in the way users become distracted, self-promoting, and even drugged by the experiences on Web 2.0. Singularity Hub is proud to present an exclusive infographic on How Social Media Is Ruining Our Minds, produced by Assisted Living Today Assisted Living Facilities. Even the most predictable and accepted of the changes created by internet use could have profound effects on society as the pull of online communication grows stronger every day.

The debate on whether online communication is hampering or enhancing the human mind has been ongoing during the opening of the 21st Century. Certainly one would guess that, like so many technologies before it, social media will both provide advantages and demand some sacrifices from its users. Multitasking across social networks allows those plugged in to have a rapid response to trends, and possibly find opportunities faster in the emerging market. That same multitasking can cause users to become distracted, with minds halfway in the digital realm even when trying to focus on other tasks. Wherever the balance is struck between risk and benefit for social media it seems apparent that the impact on the brain is profound, rapidly onsetting, and growing. It takes just hours of regular online activity before scientists can detect changes in the mind, and those changes are only going to increase as people spend more time on Twitter, Facebook, etc. Billions more people around the globe will gain regular internet access in upcoming decades so it’s likely that these newly perceived trends are going to become a nearly universal part about what it means to be human in the 21st Century. Perhaps that change is fitting. The human brain was so instrumental in the engineering of the internet, it only seems fair that the internet is ready to return the favor.

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[Graphic created by Assisted Living Today Assisted Living Facilities]

Discussion — 4 Responses

  • Ver Greeneyes December 13, 2011 on 10:40 am

    I think it’s fair to say that humans as a species are still adjusting to what a good level of interconnectedness actually is. What I think more and more people are finding is that once their number of connections (friends, subscriptions) reaches a critical number (probably dependent on the interface of the social medium), it becomes impossible to manage. The difference seems to be in how people react to this overload:
    1) Enjoy the ride and keep up with some, but not all updates as they go past. This demotes the social feed to little more than background noise, like a television that’s always on without actively being watched (most of the time).
    2) Go through your connections and aggressively prune them until they contain only the most pertinent ones. This reduces the social activity to a manageable level but runs the risk of reducing the service to a glorified news ticker, as you only keep the connections that are most consistently interesting.
    3) Burn out trying to keep up with everything. This causes interest in the social service to stagnate – for some, this is a cue to move on to the next big thing (like the transition from Myspace to Facebook). Others may lose interest altogether.

    Another interesting aspect is the connection between how you deal with the social feed and how you contribute to it. In the first case, while the social feed is arguably the least useful to you (being only randomly interesting or relevant), it encourages or at least allows you to contribute whatever you want. In the second case, since your feed is highly relevant and interesting, you are encouraged to only post or repost similarly interesting or relevant things (making you, in a sense, into a social aggregate for others to draw on). In the third case, your activity is likely to come in bursts as a new social service opens up, with only fallback to highly personal connections (IM, e-mail, VOIP) as you lose interest.

    Perhaps our children, growing up with highly evolved social media embedded in their lives from an early age, will all end up dealing with them in the same way. In any case, only time will tell.

  • lennier1 December 14, 2011 on 8:59 am

    It should say attention spans cut to five minutes, not five seconds. I thought that sounded too extreme when I read it.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/3522781/stress-of-modern-life-cuts-attention-spans-to-five-minutes.html

  • astroidea December 27, 2011 on 2:04 am

    As much as I despise social media and would love to see an army of revered scientists joining me on denouncing it, this infographic fails horribly at it.

    This whole infographic, for the most part, reads as if it assumes most people think social media doesn’t affect the brain at all, then shows how it does, and then goes YOU SEE, IT DOES AFFECT THE BRAIN! IT’S RUINATION I TELL YOU!

    Most of the reported effects on the brain aren’t even negative, many even positive. And the one that does come off negative, such as shortened attention span, may just be a tradeoff, as the article states. But even if it indeed something bad to be avoided, to associate shortened attention span to something inherent with social media is just irresponsible. The high stimulation and mentally captivating nature of today’s entertainment is what is lowering our thresholds of boredom. With fast paced video games, internet pr0n, Michael Bay movies, fast cars, to base a whole article on demonizing social media based on this is ridiculous.

    I’m honestly surprised the singularityhub would come up with such sleazy content, considering the singularity was founded on rationality and logic.

  • benbradley December 29, 2011 on 10:43 am

    There’s a lot to poke at here, but the bullhorn (!) saying “SOCIAL MEDIA/INTERNET ADDICTION IS REAL” caught my eye. This means there will soon be treatment centers for Internet addiction just as there are for alcohol and drug addiction (treating too many famous names to mention), codependency, and sex addiction (Tiger Woods) along with their matching 12-step programs for lifetime aftercare. And yes, there’s already a real “Internet Anonymous” with its 12 steps almost exactly the same as AA’s 12 steps.

    So what exactly is the treatment? Turning your will and life over to the care of God, as step three says. It’s all very medical and scientific. [sarcasm alert]