Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
February 24, 2009 9:52 PM

Stupid, Stupid, Stupid

Online social networks are making you stupid. They're also going to make the next generation of kids stupider too.

That was the news out of the UK today. The Mail Online had an article titled, Social websites harm children's brains: Chilling warning to parents from top neuroscientist, and here's what it said:

"Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively 'rewire' the brain. Computer games and fast-paced TV shows were also a factor, she said. '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.'"

Didn't they say the same thing about television, radio and every other media technology that has ever been invented? (they even said it about rock n' roll).

"'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sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,' she said."

And then there's this:

"Psychologists have also argued that digital technology is changing the way we think. They point out that students no longer need to plan essays before starting to write - thanks to word processors they can edit as they go along. Satellite navigation systems have negated the need to decipher maps."

We are all meeting more people and connecting to those who have similar interests to ours in these online channels. We are being introduced to others and publishing our own content with a global platform and audience. We are not just sitting back and letting random television programming suck the time out of our lives. We're reading, engaging and creating in everything from video and audio to images and text. 

So, what do you think? Are Twitter and Facebook making us stupider?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • Posted by Greg
    Greg

    Lazier perhaps?

    Reply
  • Posted by Kyle
    Mitch Joel

    Well since I'm so much dumber now than I was before social networking, let's see if I can say this in 140 stupid characters or less:

    Neuroscientists need headlines, too.

    There. I did it!

    Reply
  • Posted by Telo
    Telo

    I guess it all depends on that person....A proper educating should be met. These days kids can have access online anytime that it is kinda scary. My six year old nephew knows how to get into youtube. It's a positive thing but negativity is always present, people should learn how to control themselves....

    Reply
  • Posted by Ryan Stephens
    Mitch Joel

    I suspect there's some validity to the fact that there are ways that using social networking sites could reduce the amount of time you're spending learning other disciplines, but it really depends on the individual users.

    I think of all the ways that social networking sites and the Internet have benefited me, and the list is probably more valuable than my graduate degree. I have honestly learned more about marketing from RSS reader, and made more valuable connections than I did in school.

    I also agree that younger kids could be potentially spending more time online accompanied with normal television hours and NOT going outside and being physical, and that's definitely cause for concern for parents.

    Reply
  • Posted by Chris Ritke
    Mitch Joel

    While I certainly agree with the general point you are making here - I would say that time has proven that they were right about TV: it does tend to make you stupid.

    Reply
  • Looks like the New York Times chimed in as well with an article titled, Is Social Networking Killing You:

    http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/24/is-social-networking-killing-you/?hp

    Why do they call it "social networking"? It's "online social networking." Social networking is something completely different.

    Reply
  • Posted by Jefe
    Mitch Joel

    It seems we have come full circle, from being very specialized in our knowledge, to being very general in our knowledge and back to specific again. Sure, we may not be able to read a map, but we can operate a GPS, and tools like these allow us as a culture to more further forward. If we continued to each learn the archaic use of a sexton we wouldn't have time to continue the advance of learning. Hence the need for specialists.
    I say bah to the socialists, they don't understand what it takes to move this planet forward...

    Reply
  • Posted by Rhonda
    Mitch Joel

    I agree with parts and disagree with parts. I and my children find it amazing to be able to chat with others around the world. To find out how others live their day to day lives in other parts of this country and many others. That is such a plus. But on the other hand if not monitored, internet, TV, and video games will control the lives of our children. It is up to parents to watch and control the time spent indoors and out.

    Reply
  • Posted by write_hb
    write_hb

    Well I for one want to go back to the killing, skinning and eating stage of our social existance. *That* would make me a lot smarter.

    Reply
  • Posted by Dr Ned Flanders
    Mitch Joel

    These kind of worries about new technologies destroying the old skills have been happening since the ancient Greeks. Didn't Socrates worry about writing dulling the mind and taking over the old traditions of the spoken word? I don't think we have anything to worjsfjs abrert

    Reply
  • Posted by JP
    Mitch Joel

    Even if online social networking and new technologies are "rewiring" the brain, why would that automatically be a negative thing?

    Humans evolving to adapt to their environnements? Gosh, I wonder where that could lead...

    Reply
  • Posted by Luis
    Mitch Joel

    I thing that this is like the "coffee" discussion, some say is good for you, other say is not. There is no replacement for parenting, I think is my responsibility to make sure my kids are ok on the web regardless of where they are. Just my two cents.

    Reply
  • Posted by Greg
    Mitch Joel

    I'm often apalled at the language, grammar, and manner in which people portray themselves online only to breathe a huge sigh of relief when their real-life selves don't reflect this.

    I think social networks have changed the standard of what the acceptable style of communication is online, and in the process have helped to give the appearance of 'stupidity' amongst many users.

    One nice thing I've noticed lately is online conversations and screen dialogues leading to more and more real-life meetups which I think is a great trend - having the online and offline merge rather than compete.

    Reply
  • Posted by lmkwak
    lmkwak

    Children need to learn to concentrate, it will make them smarter in the long run. I'm definately not anti-social media, on the contrary, but children need to learn all sorts of skills. One of the more important skills needed to be successful in life is is the ability to concentrate, and it takes time to learn, without distractions. As long as they have quality amounts of this time and learn how to use these online tools responsibly for communication and expressing themselves (and whatever else they may be used for in the future), thumbs up from me!

    At some point parents may feel left behind in the knowledge of some media types, and sometimes this causes them much concern because they don't understand it so it scares them. I only hope they find it important to discuss (and learn from) their kid's hobbies. Creativity and communication are other important skills in life, and super if parents and children can develop these skills together!

    Reply
  • Posted by Kevin Behringer
    Mitch Joel

    Mitch:

    I'd love to leave a comment, but I didn't understand your post. Must have had too much Social Media today!

    I saw that same article and I still haven't figured out my thoughts on the issue.

    I don't think there's any question that people's attention spans are shorter these days. People get bored and give up far more quickly than in the past. But is this BECAUSE of social media or is social media an outgrowth of this trend.

    I know, for myself, I have learned FAR more about marketing from reading blogs like yours than I did in college, so does that mean college made me dumber?

    There may be potential for laziness in social media, but that can happen anywhere. I think that it's important that we continue to "raise the bar" in social media with things like proper grammar, correct spelling, etc so that we avoid these types of criticisms in the future.

    Kevin

    Reply
  • Posted by Darren Negraeff
    Mitch Joel

    Do online social networks make us stupider? Not really. I do believe they makes us more short sighted than we already are. Though I guess that would apply at least as much to the internet and WWW in general, given that we are getting more and more information and entertainment delivered with a few tiny keystrokes. I can know what all of my friends are up to more or less instantly and so I continually focus on whatever is on the immediate horizon. But maybe that is just me.

    For example, consider this question, taken from www.jamieharrop.com - where will your blog be in 25 years? The question completely befuddled me. All I could think was, really, that I hoped I'd be alive and well. It's a great lesson, I think, to try and picture something as concrete as what your blog might look like in the shimmering distance of 25 years.

    Reply
  • Posted by Robin Browne
    Mitch Joel

    The online world, including social networks, give people access to the world's knowledge at their finger tips. In that environment the focused get smarter. The unfocused remain that way.

    Reply
  • Posted by Nicky Tillyer
    Mitch Joel

    I agree that they perhaps fracture our thoughts a little more by offering bites of information rather than whole lumps to be sat down and devoured. But that is simply the nature of life as we now know it and as an earlier poster pointed out isn't that the beautiful ability of the human brain to adapt and evolve to it's environment.
    I know that my husband and I discuss regularly the use of computers by our children and the time not spent doing what we did as kids, running around by the creek, kicking soccer balls, playing tennis on our own against a wall etc but we have to remember that it is different times now and all relative.
    The changes to our lifestyles over the past two decades with technology have made enormous impacts on our lives. Who hasn't gone back home to get their mobile phone if you've inadvertently left it behind? I know I have but think back to 15 years ago...only few (here in Aus anyway!) people had them, and they were bricks....

    Reply
  • Posted by Steve Martell
    Mitch Joel

    Okay...so maybe allowing your children to hang out in front of a computer and TV all day is not the best way to develop their brains (but neither is trying to teach your kid to multiply at age 2). However, marketing a study based on fear of what could happen sounds like just another stunt.

    So, I saw Elvis and denounced my faith, turned my TV to MTV and had a radio star die on my front step, and just finished my newest tin foil hat to keep the satellite/intnernet/government from hearing what I plan to make for lunch.

    Reply
  • Posted by SoniaC
    Mitch Joel

    Interesting study... I believe the smart individuals will get smarter as the needle gets pushed up on wit and data consumption and comprehension/processing.

    The dumb will stay the same but may become more isolated as they become shadowed by the communication progression they are no longer a part of...they'll feel like they're "missing something"

    Maybe? Just a theory...

    Reply
  • Posted by James R Baker
    Mitch Joel

    It is your perception about social networking sites. I think the positive things should be considered more openly.

    Reply
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