Does the title make you sneer or go into a passionate tirade in defense? Considering the matter very superficially, I would too. Social media is an excellent tool and platform for networking, news, awareness, communication, marketing, entertainment, media sharing and what not. It (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Foursquare, Tumblr, Google Plus and all the rest) is what brings us together, the whole world in one place. Social media and the connectivity it offers keeps us informed of everything. What is happening in Ukraine? Which is the latest TED talk happening? A seagull pooped on my face, what should I do? Where is God? Social media has answers for it all, fortunately or not.
On one hand it gives an opportunity to gain awareness about the world, society and pertinent issues and technological advances of our time. But at the same time it makes us unwilling/unable to derive independent conclusions, angrier, ruder, with continuously depreciating memories and attention spans. Oh, and did I mention, stupid.
Who needs a memory in this digital age ?
Everything is just a click away. Be it the constitution of black hole or the ingredients to dinner, we can always just look it up. Social media does one better. We can form a collective opinion on the properties of black hole or how to achieve culinary perfection at dinner. It is all neatly arranged for our convenience in continuous set of pictures or videos. Why remember what you can look up in seconds? Free up all that gray matter for important pursuits like FarmVille and FlappyBird.
Attention span? I can multitask!
Everything can be expressed in 140 character textboxes. Entire days and months can be summed up in #LongPhrasesWithNoMeaning. The infomercials that pop up are also getting shorter and smarter to retain the attention of the viewers.
The buzzword of the day is multitasking. Why give undivided attention to the task at hand when you can stream movies, tweet about what you’re doing, share causes that you earnestly support for more likes and answer a poll or two while you’re at it.
I have 1843 followers. Beat that!
Networking has become a very important part of our social and professional lives. Portraying the right online persona is an indispensable part of it. Social media allows anyone to act like an expert and promote themselves as one. Tweet or follow the latest tweet on your niche, add the latest and most recommended books on your reading list, some wise quotes as your principle in life all mixed with wit and voila! – You have it made.
Cognition. Contemplation. Compassion. What?
Some would say that basic human traits or the essence of humanness is in our ability to rationally analyze the information that we receive, to reflect, in our pursuit of meaning and genuine empathy to the world. There is hardly any time for contemplation or analysis when the answers are but a click away. Why bother to think and analyze when we could just ask someone who knows the answers?
Our ability to be compassionate also takes a hit since there is no or very less interaction happening on a personal level. In fact, studies show that today’s college students are 40% less empathetic than generations before them, and many psychologists and physicians say social media is to blame.
Oh, I have an idea; let us put this on poll!
The bottom line
We all have so much going on that our brain gets none or very little downtime to process it all. When juggling so many tasks at once, its no wonder that, the potential for memory, ingenuity and rationalizing goes out the back door.
The rise of information-sharing websites makes us rely heavily on the opinion of others. Starting thus, we believe everything and promote everything. Living people are pronounced dead and we rush in with condolences. Nobody has the time or inclination to verify the truth of the matter. This attitude erodes our ability to think critically and make us lazy because we assume that there will always be someone else who knows the answer. This constant bombardment of answers could gradually erase genuine questions or curiosity from our lives. This information explosion serves no purpose. Any boost to intelligence is purely superficial. It merely makes us stupid by making us smarter first.
Dazzled by Social media and everything it has on offer, we casually accept the gradual obliteration of our intellectual lives and even our culture. It has the potential for brilliance. But as is the case of any influence, it is but a potential. We choose the influence it wields over us. We can either grow stupid or smarter. Social Media, by itself, cannot make us stupid.
Image Courtesy - abril.com.br, mozok.info, blogspot.com