As the lives of younger generations become increasingly digitalized (the average 8-18 year-old spends 7 hours and 38 minutes using entertainment technology throughout a typical day), companies and older generations are desperately trying to keep up and understand this way of life.
The Disney Channel recently announced a brand new movie titled Harriet the Spy: Blog Wars. No longer content with her old-school secret notebook, Harriet is forging boldly into 2010 and competing against the most popular girl in school to become the official blogger of their high school class. Jezebel poked fun of the update by re-naming other classic children’s books for the MySpace generation. Instead of abiding by “the only book I read is Facebook” mindset, they suggested titles such as “margaret 48267: are you there god?”, “Little Blog on the Prairie”, “From the Mixed-Up Tweets of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler” and “Wikipedia Brown, Boy E-tective” for the digital generation. Along with making me laugh, these updates to pop culture of yesteryear made me wonder exactly what sort of impact this constant exposure to technology and social media sites is having on children’s brains.
Search results revealed that almost every article on the negative effects of social media on developing brains referred back to an article written by Baroness Susan Greenfield. (No, I didn’t know that baronesses still existed either.) With the straightforward title of “Social Websites Harm Children’s Brains,” Greenfield argues that sites such as Facebook and Twitter shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered. Backing that up, a different study found out that 30% more college students scored high on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory in 2006 than in 1982. (A fact that could potentially be proven just by looking at the sheer number of tagged photos on Facebook some individuals have of themselves.)
Anyway. The large majority of the baroness’s research seemed to be rather subjective, considering that one of her main points was that social interactions conducted through computer screens are fundamentally different from spoken conversations — which are “far more perilous” than electronic interactions because they “occur in real time, with no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses.” (I hate when that happens!)
On the opposite end of the spectrum are scientists who are studying brain plasticity – how the brain continues to dramatically change its wiring and function long after early development. Scientists are realizing that the brain never stops reorganizing itself in response to the world and that kids today need to learn new digital skills to survive and thrive in our fast-evolving society.
Research on young people shows that use of the sites is associated with a better social life in the real world because they use the services to enhance their existing relationships — just as anyone would do with the telephone. When researchers at the University of Minnesota asked 16- to 18-year-olds what they learn from using social networking sites, the students listed technology skills as the top lesson, followed by creativity, and being open to new or diverse views and communication skills. Being a technophile, I could rave about the wonders of the Internet all day, but there are a lot of people who are genuinely concerned that this constant exposure to technology and social media sites is having a negative impact on children today.
Every generation is afraid of the effects of brand new technology on the next. An article on Neuroanthroplogy.net sums it up best:
If we search for analogies, we can think of countless previous techno-moral panics that now seem positively quaint: the dangerous effects of rock ‘n’ roll, comic books, music videos, television, the wireless, air conditioning, trains… Mesopotamian parents were probably fearful of the impact of the newfangled chariot, and German parents no doubt fretted about what horrors Gutenberg’s movable type was about to introduce into their homes.
Cecily brought up the point that adults solidify what they know instead of taking new in. (I like what I know and I know what I like.) It’s easier to stay inside comfort zones than it is to reinvent our notions of the world and the way it works. Younger generations, however, don’t have to reinvent their worldview — this much constant access to technology is all they’ve ever known. Youth today reference communicating online with the same terminology and naturalness as real life. They “talk” to each other when they are on online messenger systems. There is no real life or digital life, it’s the same place.
Baroness Greenfield said that “it is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations.”
And maybe, that’s the point.
Mar 12, 2010 | Categories: Culture, Seeing, Technology | Tags: brain plasticity, Disney Channel, Facebook, Harriet the Spy, Jezebel, moral panic, Neuroanthropology, social media, Susan Greenfield, Technology, Twitter, youth | View Comments
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