Management & Leadership

The effects of social media: Is new media altering our psyche?

Aug 02, 2013
The effects of social media

Recently a good friend of mine suggested I open a Twitter account: “But I already have Facebook and a host of other applications to manage”, I protested, “I don’t think my brain could handle any more virtual demands. This multitasking is playing havoc with my concentration span!”

I have to admit that I’m finding it increasingly challenging to remain focused in one virtual arena without suddenly finding myself somewhere else entirely.  Writing an email gets interrupted by a sudden urge to google the price of an iPhone, which then gets interrupted by a quick muse on Facebook, which then gets interrupted by some online banking. So it goes on… and on. My poor half-written email waits patiently for my return in the dusty “drafts” dungeon on my laptop. Yet I do wonder what all this mental promiscuity is doing to our brains?

In his book, The Shallows, American science writer Nicholas Carr argues that the effects if social media are not just changing our habits but our brains, too. It turns out that the mature human brain is not an immutable seat of personality and intellect but a changeable thing, subject to “neuroplasticity“. When our activities alter, so does the architecture of our brain.

In his article for The Daily Telegraph, Neil Tweedie writes: “Carr cites research by Gary Small, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, who concluded that “constant exposure to modern media strengthens new neural pathways while weakening older ones. Just five hours of internet use is enough to awaken previously dormant parts of the brain’s pre-frontal cortex.”

This suggests we’re forever evolving scientifically, which is all well and good, but what are the effects of social media and is all this multitasking productive? Not so, says David Meyer, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan: “The bottom line is that you can’t simultaneously be thinking about your tax return and reading an essay, just as you can’t talk to yourself about two things at once.” Thank you, Mr Meyer.

Now where’s that email gone…

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