Is Facebook and Twitter Bad for Your Brain? Or It Actually Makes You a Better Person

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Here is an old vision of a high-tech future. It is an old magazine illustration in a 1969 Japanese Sunday magazine, which shows life in the future, pervaded by computers. This illustration “The Rise of the Computerized School,” by Shigeru Komatsuzaki is an illustrated scenario of what schools will be like in the future. Sort of Webex type of online delivery and interactive learning via a tablet.

I always find it fascinating to go back to see the future, comics and movies are the best place to see the future. In those worlds, there are always concerns of the computer taking over of the Big Brother is controlling everything. Funny I’ve never seen an illustration, comic or movie that have anything similar to the Facebook or Twitter of the world. I guess it is never easy imagining the future. There are things we simply cannot imagine. With kids and grown-ups spending so much time in the social networking world, we never really understand the full implications on us. Twitter is everywhere. And yes, Twitter is coming to the X-box.

Does Facebook make us better persons or more sociable? And the idea that most of our private lives are now semi-public, at least to our friends. Everyone knows what I was doing this weekend, good thing or bad thing? With camera phone being a standard feature, with the tap of a screen your life story is now shared by tens of thousands of people, some you know and some you don’t. Your thoughts and feelings are broadcasted to the world; I’m talking about the immediacy and accessibility of Twittermessages that make private conversations public. The space between public and private are dangerously blurred.

What about kids? Neuroscientist warns that social networks harm children’s brains. She suggests that sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention span, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centered. The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on the stream of messages coming in everyday. I don’t think it is just young people, we all have Blackberry or iPhone addictions. I am always constantly my Blackberry just to see if I’ve missed anything from the 83 groups that I joined. I called it staying in touch.

Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist and director of the Royal Institution, believes repeated exposure could effectively ‘rewire’ the brain. Computer games and fast-paced TV shows were also a factor, she said. We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist. My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing 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.’ I don’t buy it. I would argue it allows kids to adapt to the fast moving world of data overload and learn to make fast decisions based on multiple sources of data feeding to them. It is like training a fighter pilot when one is 16, it is a lot easier as they can handle all input and perform real-time sense-making.

Having said that, I strongly urge readers not to check your Facebook or Twitter during a bath. And if for whatever reasons you do, don’t be like this 17-year-old Romanian girl and risk your well-being to Tweet. Maria Barbu was, in fact, in the tub while using Twitter when she likely reached to plug in her charger with a wet hand, electrocuting herself in the process. It is called Twittercide. Yes, social networking can be dangerous.

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