Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Online Sociability

Image from
Remember not too long ago when I posted about my "gnat-like concentration"? My ever shrinking attention span was becoming a concern to me. It was limiting my ability even to write in the relatively easy forum of The Bitten Apple.

Never mind the many-paged seminar papers in which I am to contribute something real to my chosen field.

With this in mind, I'd like to share an article a colleague of mine recently shared with me: "What Facebook Users Share: Lower Grades.

Among college students, Facebook users' GPAs are a whole point lower than those of non-users. Why is that? Although FB users see no correlation, researchers think there is a link, although they can't say whether it is cause-and-effect or whether Facebook use and lower GPAs are two symptoms of another issue.

In other words, does Facebook make us procrastinators who are prone to distraction, or do we use Facebook because we are procrastinators who are prone to distraction?

Either way, neuroscientists are associating Facebook with diminished mental abilities.

According to an Oxford University neuroscientist, Susan Greenfield:
Social networks like Facebook are "infantilizing the brain into the state of small children" by shortening the attention span and providing constant instant gratification.

UCLA neuroscientist, Gary Small warns of
"a decreased ability among devotees of social networks and other modern technology to read real-life facial expressions and understand the emotional context of subtle gestures. Young people are particularly at risk for these problems, he writes, because 'young minds tend to be the most sensitive, as well as the most exposed, to digital technology.'"

What the article fails to mention is compulsivity, which I'm sure predates Facebook use, but contributes to its level of use. It is hard to resist the compulsion to check regularly for changes and updates. Often enought, there is something new there, just enough activity to keep you coming back.

I have equated Facebook with a constantly ongoing party. And when I have work to do, late night writing or research on my computer, it is like being the little kid sent to bed while the adults are still partying away downstairs.

And instant gratification is a cultural characteristic these days, isn't it? Instant gratifications defines us as a culture. Who do I mean? Americans certainly, but perhaps all Westerners, perhaps all who live in the developed world.

I do agree that is radically reduces one's attention span. Facebook is easier to digest too because entries are shorter. Blogs, on the other hand, are often long, demanding more time to read. Now with Twitter, you can make constant, pithy updates about your life, from any mobile device.

I do know that homework (which for me always involves some difficult, long reading, often online) has been harder than ever this semester. When I get bored and want to stop reading, it is just so easy to click over to another window. Likewise, writing, always done with the internet open, is hard to concentrate on.

But there is a benefit too! I have found old friends, cousins, cousins' kids, and colleagues, and I feel as if I am involved in their lives. I know about when they go on a fun trip, when they're sick, when they're working on a project. I know who has a sense of humor!

This good stuff does translate to real life, as I have discovered, when seeing people in person again. I pondered this fairly recently too in "Alone, Not Alone."

I could say more, but my break is over. Time to get back to work.


Kato said...

I am awed to be able to find most of my graduating high school class in a single afternoon while sitting thousands of miles away from all of them. I have written more letter to my sister via e-mail than I ever would have on paper. I can send photos to every branch of the family simultaneously without developing film or stamping envelopes. I've discovered other people in the world (on the north coast, even!) who are equally obsessed with books, bikes, art, etc. and I don't feel so intellectually isolated.

However, I don't cherish daily (or worse, hourly) updates on infant behavior; there are some former classmates I was not friends with twenty years ago and feel very awkward about becoming "friends" with now; I delete a lot of crap from my digital correspondance that might never be shared in person. And I do notice poor listening/expressing skills: whether it's from not having to respond immediately to messages, or from language being reduced to emoticons, I don't know.

headwrapper said...

"All media work us over completely. They are so pervasive in their personal, political, economic, aesthetic, psychological, moral, ethical, and social consequences that they leave no part of us untouched, unaffected, unaltered."Marshall McLuhan


\ said...

hey, wheres the party? :o)
Theres this story about these cartographers and they map reality. They are very clever and they put in all the details. They put in so many details that they have to keep enlarging the map to contain all the data. They get into hyper-detail, everything is documented. Eventually the map grows so big that it covers up reality itself. All anyone can see is the map.


beachcomber said...

I question the diagnosis of "diminished mental abilities" though I don't question the appearance of such. FB can be a distraction from studies (and work) PLUS it allows us to burp out little bubbles of our life without the fuss and bother of spelling and punctuation. For students, that can be a REAL bad habit since those are precisely the irritants that can get you a poor grade IMPLYING lower intelligence.

Well, TTFN. SYL. Back B4 long cuz FB is where the kul kids are!