8 April 2009 | Team Tamar

Social media: Enthusiastically embracing the erosion of our identity

Social network sites are making our children, and us, dumb – shortening our attention spans, causing us to search out sensationalism, creating in users an inability to empathise and leading us to nurse a shaky sense of identity.

Or so says Baroness Greenfield, a professor of synaptic pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford, and director of the Royal Institution, who last month led members of the government to admit their work on internet regulation has not extended to broader issues, such as the psychological impact on children.

Her bottom line is that social networking sites may be putting children’s attention spans in jeopardy – and she does pose a relevant point when she says that “if the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action and reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with the press of a key, such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such timescales. Perhaps when in the real world such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we will see such behaviours and call them attention-deficit disorder.”

Lady Greenfield went on to say "It might be helpful to investigate whether the near total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the last decade might in some way be linked to the threefold increase over this period in prescriptions for methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder."

She said she found it strange that we are "enthusiastically embracing" the erosion of our identity through social networking sites, since those that use such sites can lose a sense of where they themselves "finish and the outside world begins". When our sense of identity has been eroded by "fast-paced, instant screen reactions” then perhaps the next generation will define themselves by the responses of others.
Zombie child
According to Lady Greenfield, social networking sites can provide “constant reassurance – that you are listened to, recognised, and important” and this, coupled with a distancing from the stress of face-to-face, real-life conversation, which are “far more perilous … occur in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses” and “require a sensitivity to voice tone, body     language and perhaps even to pheromones” could lead to real conversation eventually giving way to easy, online, sanitised 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 wonders if perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability
and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.

What say you, the reader? More social media scaremongering in the order of Dr. Aric Sigman, with whom Lady Greenfield has worked in the past, or something which needs to be addressed before our children all become social media zombies?


Team Tamar