Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Does Facebook Destroy Your Brain?

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg

I have a Facebook page, I even have "friends" (even Fat Doctor!!), but I haven't really figured out what to do with it, so it doesn't eat my time. Something to check here and there. Roy has a Facebook page, but alas, few friends, and he's too busy twittering for it to really matter. ClinkShrink stays out of the fray, but I do write on her sister's wall here and there.

With the kids, it's another story. It consumes their worlds. Even my patients talk in terms of Facebook. Who's befriended you, who's UNfriended you, who's in a relationship with who, it's all there. I stuck my head in a video my own kid was making, only to run into some teens in the grocery store the next day and have them say, "I saw you on Facebook!"

So is this a good thing? (How could it be?).

From today's Mail Online, David Derbyshire writes "Social Websites Harm Children's Brains." I've clipped some parts of the article below:

Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively 'rewire' the brain.

Experts are concerned children's online social interactions can 'rewire' the brain....

'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.'....

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....

Educational psychologist Jane Healy believes children should be kept away from computer games until they are seven. Most games only trigger the 'flight or fight' region of the brain, rather than the vital areas responsible for reasoning.

Usually we think of computer games as being harmful in terms of exposure to violence, or in that they suck time away from important parts of life: contact with other people, exposure to new and interesting things. We don't usually think of these things in terms of the brain Hardwiring.


Novalis said...

One could similarly say though that compared to living on a farm, living in a big city "rewires the brain" (the lights, the noises, the smells, the horror!). To argue that the brain is altered by stimuli often goes without saying--demonstrating harm requires attention to context as well as all kinds of philosophical issues about what kinds of lives are most desirable (books vs. video games; Facebook encounters vs. cocktail parties, etc.).

For instance, some are concerned that the young and computer-savvy are distant and detached when it comes to face-to-face interactions. But extending the analogy above, it is a commonplace that "country folk" might find "city folk" to be abrasive and unfriendly (what, pass on the street and not even make eye contact, much less say hello?). Different contexts shape different modes of sociality.

Unknown said...

The invention of writing diminished the need to keep all our information memorized. Maybe that was a great loss, too.

The quoted article seems more like a permutation of traditional generational fears --"the youngins got no stamina/courage/brains because they didn't walk ten miles uphill to school without shoes in the snow"--than anything else.

Anonymous said...

I was going to read your whole post but I lost interest after the first few sentences (too many words). Could you shorten it to fit into my limited attention span? Oops, gotta go, my Facebook page awaits...

Novalis said...

Yes, I agree, my brain is going all fuzzy.

But to follow up on my prior comment, the question is whether the Internet is more like the big city--or cocaine. I don't think we know yet. By the time we do know, will it be too late? The train has left the station, but if it derails, we'll wander back through the fields somehow...

Rachel Cooper said...

Experts are concerned children's online social interactions can 'rewire' the brain....

'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.'....

This comment is brought to you by the university student who should be writing a paper, but instead is reading your blog. :::skulks back to her little denial corner of the universe, where university and facebook play nicely hand in hand.

The Girl said...

Facebook is annoying and crazy. I once changed my profile status for a few minutes just to try and privatize it a little, and everybody freaked and thought that I was no longer married!
It is a funny world where people assume that this is something that normal people would publicise through Facebook. I changed it back REALLY quickly. :)

Harmony Sweetpea said...

Facebook is certainly taking over the world. It does not surprise me that it is now linked with 'ruining' our youth! And to an extent, I'd have to agree. It certainly takes away a lot of the socialising they should be doing in their teens. Makes you wonder how they will cope in the real world when they cannot hid behind computer screens and status changes to describe how they are feeling. But, in saying all that, I too am a victim of Facebook. Eeek!

Owner said...

I thought evolution was based on changes in the brain, among other things? And as for bright lights and loud noises, I just don't see how living in a city is less harmful to the brain than using facebook - when I walk through the streets sometimes I feel assaulted by all the colors, flashing banners, music from street corners, cars, and all the rest of the stuff that comes with it. I'd probably bet that the brains of city-people are already infantilized, so using facebook is just another way to express that :)

Regarding computer games, I believe these people should stop generalizing. While I agree that action games may be less useful for reasoning, games that fall into the strategy category promote precisely what we value: thinking, reasoning, planning, prioritizing, thinking in perspective, etc.

And I also don't see the problem with students not planning their essays in advance. I remember that even when I did use pen and paper for my essays and short stories, I wouldn't make a plan and just sort of let it flow - and having a word editor just helps me to easily edit the coherence of my writing after I'm done writing. I don't know, I just don't understand how it could ever be a bad thing (other than the fact that handwriting is getting uglier and uglier as people use more and more word processing software :))) )

Anonymous said...

Students no longer need to plan essays because thanks to word processors they can edit as they go along??? Huh? What schools do these kids go to? What school did those psychologists go to? Students still have to plan their essays. The word processor does not think for them. The word processor can correct spelling and grammar errors, but the student with no knowledge of spelling and grammar will allow the computer to make changes that do not make sense. This is easy to spot and the paper will not pass muster. Eventually, voice recognition will take the place of word processing. Students will no longer need those typing skills but they will still be required to think. All writers edit as they go along. They always have, whether with the aid of a word processor, white out tape or fluid, or the revising and reordering of sentences and paragraphs written in long hand.
As to Facebook destroying the brain: I am sure you have heard the joke about the person who goes to the doctor to have casts removed from their arms and asks if they will now be able to play violin. Doc says "of course", and person responds with :"Wow that is great because I never could before." The range of people on Facebook is enormous.(Just because some people have 20 different accounts does not mean they have multiple personality disorder.) Whatever you were before Facebook is what you will be after Facebook and what you will be on Facebook. Facebook destroys privacy but so do blogs. If you have a brain you know that. If you don't, you still won't be playing violin.

NeoNurseChic said...

I can't say that Facebook, Twitter, and Blogging have destroyed my brain or world or anything. Heck, I even met my boyfriend on Match.com and hopefully in the next year or so that will turn into an engagement! If it weren't for these sites, my social contact with the outside world would be minimal. I use the computer to learn all I can - all the time! I can't tell you how many times a day I think, "Wow - I really want to look that up online" and then realize that my crackberry has internet access! Is it a bad thing? I'm reading more than I EVER was before!!! I can discern between what is well or poorly written, between sources that may not be up to snuff. I can feel free to express myself instead of bottling up my emotions because it's more acceptable online than in the "real" world.

And is there really such a difference between the online and real worlds anymore? I don't think the cyberworld is just a place for pervs and geeks any longer! For me, the internet has opened up hundreds of doors of opportunities! In 2006, I went to England by myself. I traveled 2000 miles in 8 days and stayed with someone I had never before met in person until I got off the plane at Heathrow Airport! How did I meet her? An internet support group for cluster headaches! We'd known each other online for a few years before I made that trip! That trip is one of the greatest experiences I've had in my life!

I don't think that blogging, twitter, and facebook take us away from living life. I think it just allows us to express ourselves while living life. There are times I have to set limits and remember not to stay on the computer all day and ignore my boyfriend, family, and work that needs to be done, but if it wasn't the internet serving as the distractor, it would certainly be something else. I know I'd be in the library with my nose in 2000 books if I couldn't look stuff up online all the time. Does it matter if I'm reading online and not books? I still find time to read classical literature, but I even find examples of older texts that are now available on the computer.

So I have to say it has enhanced my life tremendously! And tell Roy to give me a follow on Twitter if he's so inclined! I've followed him on there, but I don't know if he has realized it's me - or if he doesn't want to follow, that's alright. My whole world doesn't come crashing down just because someone does or doesn't follow me on Twitter or friend/unfriend me on Facebook. It's just another fun way to connect with like and different minded individuals! :)

Take care!
Carrie :)

NeoNurseChic said...

Oh and I just have to add one other thing. I started seriously online dating in 2004. I've had probably 4 serious relationships that started that way - meaning they lasted >3 months. I now live with my current boyfriend, and we've been together since June 2007. We moved in together in September 2008. If I hadn't met him online, I probably would never have met him at all!

It used to be that online dating was some "dirty little secret" that people had to hide. I never understood it. I'm not really an outgoing person until I get to know somebody - I'm kinda a homebody - I enjoy being at home and with my family. I work in a unit with over 100 women and next to no men. Where am I supposed to meet people? At bars?

My family is now very supportive of the fact that I met Jason online, but previously they probably would have suggested that I meet people at bars or else have the unrealistic expectation that I would somehow meet someone, when I wasn't someone to really go out and do a lot of social things on my own. I don't really have a big group of friends that I visit with often. I have 2 best friends - one lives in Chicago and one nearby in Philly, but we still don't get to hang out that often! So would people have me go out to a bar and meet someone who needs to drink alcohol in order to have fun? That's how I should meet a quality partner? I mean, come on!

So that's my take on virtual life. Because of it, I was able to meet a very wide variety of people. Did we sometimes still go out to bars? Yes! But it wasn't the only way to meet people and have social interaction! I went out with the following types for at least 3 dates, 4 of which I had a relationship with that lasted 4 months or greater: a graphic designer for a newspaper, a phys ed teacher, a medical student, a resident at my hospital (who, incidentally, I met up with online), an architect, a neuroscience researcher, and now...a physical therapist. Are these people (or me) considered to be losers because they signed up for online dating? I think not. :)

I'm not implying that you're saying that - just wanted to add more commentary on why "online" life is not necessarily bad or different than real life. If someone could show me what's so bad about it, then maybe I would change my tune! Of course, you have to be careful and use very good judgement when dating online, but you don't know the person in the bar any more than what they're telling you either! I always arranged for first meets to be in mutual, public locations during the daytime - I really tried to get to know the person prior to meeting them, and then still moved slowly once talking to them in real life. And in many cases, having the emotional attraction to someone's personality before the initial physical attraction to their looks was even better! :)

OK...I'll shut up now. My 0.02 for the day and then some!! ;)

Take care,
Carrie :)

Rachel Cooper said...

Carrie! you're back!

Anonymous said...

Carrie and Novalis, great posts.

Hmm, these same people who are concerned about facebook destroying kid's brains don't seem to have the same concern about what psych meds are doing long term.

Anyway, watch out as facebook addiction could make its way into the DSM.

Sorry for the negative post but I am so tired of these types of articles and what seems to be misplaced priorities when there are alot more serious issues.


Fat Doctor said...

So, you think it is wrong to update my status between patients? What the heck should I be doing while walking from unit to unit?

Jennifer Riley said...

I’m not saying it’s healthy to get caught up in any one thing, but it my generation it was tv and video games that were ‘destroying’ children. Now, it’s tv, video games, and the internet. There are more technological options for a youth to absorb themselves in, but you can only be absorbed with one at a time. Facebook has its pros and cons, for sure, but we live in a fluid world increasingly dependent on rapidly advancing technology. I have friends that have asked others to remove any pictures and stories about them from Facebook because they are afraid of how they will be judged in other, more professional, communities. But without Facebook, I wouldn’t be able to stay in touch with my widely spread out friends. I realise some of the people I work with could easily find pictures of me there, but I make sure not to put up anything I wouldn’t want others to see. As well as adapting our view of social structures, we also need to be open-minded about how technology does change the way we think. It doesn’t seem reasonable to expect a child in this generation to write essays with a pen and paper solely for the reason that they should think a certain way. Of course it’s ok for children to think differently; they live in a different world.

Anonymous said...

I wrote all my essasy with pen and paper. Then, at least in university, I had to type out what I had already written.
today, my children write their essays on computers. The key thing to remember, again, is that they write the essay. The computer is merely a tool. The kids need to to know how to structure the essay, and also how to spell. Allowing spell check or grammar check to auto correct would be nuts. The essay would be a mess.
Kids do not have any less abilty to think and analyze critically because the do it on computers. They cannot write an entire essay lifted from Wikipedia, cite that as their souce, and get away with it.

Anonymous said...

Baroness Greenfield is a sour old woman who's always bleating out about how modern technology is doing terrible things to lickle child-er-en. She bangs on about how computer games are all about the instant gratification of rescuing the princess, as opposed to books, which are of course wonderful and were never a feared new technology, oh no. Princess?! Silly old moo.

Anyhow, she's one of those reactionary sorts who complains about anything that was invented too late for her to have the opportunity to take full advantage of it.

Also, when I hear her name I always think of Baron Greenback.


Anonymous said...

Honestly I'm too exhausted to read the article at the moment, but I'm hearing a lot of how it's changing and rewiring, but not much on how it's harming (except in regards to attention span). There's an article in Discover recently about how we're evolving faster than ever, contrary to the opinion we've made natural selection obsolete...anyway....I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with adapting. All the better if we don't have to wait for descendents first.

I pretty much stopped using Facebook after graduating but if anything it benefited me socially, being quite the avid introvert/semi-schizoid who wasn't interested in tending to relationships. What could be better for people like me--you only hang out when you feel like it but still are able to maintain the relationship. Plus, there's far less weirdness about contacting someone you're only sort of friends with. That's always been my problem and is once again, wanting to hang out maybe once or twice every month or two but not having the established relationships to do so.

Another thing. I've never planned out essays on paper and I secretly defied teachers that tried to force me to do it. Yet I always received glowing feedback on my writing from school and now I'm a well respected copy writer. When it's not 3am anyway, as I tend to ramble (would've been wise to create an outline for this comment probably). So is the problem that people just aren't fitting into some neat but baseless little box of how good writing is done or is it that they don't have to see any consequences farther than their noses? I assume it's the latter...but then maybe it's good for attention span. For me, writing on screen is a constant process of critical analysis which requires sustained attention and concentration. Plus, going back and changing things makes you more prone to mistakes, so you must focus to avoid errors.

Regardless, the whole fluid intelligence versus crystallized in regards to age/era is already a tested and well known theory. Actually, it's my opinion this country needs creativity and problem solving more than it ever has before. It's adaptive to the new environmental stimuli to boot, whereas school systems have tried to beat the creativity out of the last few generations with drilling and memorization. (Have you ever needed to know Boise is the capital of Idaho for any other reason than to avoid appearing ignorant? And once everyone has net-enabled phones, will you ever need to know when Google is not available?)

So forgive me if I'm not running for the hills when I hear we're adapting to reality.

Anonymous said...

When in high school, my son disdained reading because it "wasn't multi-media enough." After his first year of university, he reported with amazement, "Reading is wonderful. There's so much more there."

He still does homework with the computer on, TV on, and music on, but he also reads philosophy and history for hours at a time.

Doesn't anyone remember how, in a prior generation, we had to set timers by the phone so our daughters wouldn't be on the phone with their friends for hours talking about nothing?

Anonymous said...

I love the point about the phone, anon.

You know, I bet all these rewired brains are now primed to invent the next thing that's going to destroy/rewire everyone's brain. The horror - someone get these kids back in front of the tv, NOW.