25 February 2009

Is Facebook rotting our brains?

There was an article in today's Chicago Tribune about how a British study is finding that social networking sites are creating brains similar to those of infants.  It discusses how social networking sites and informal communication affect attention spans and give people a weak sense of identity.  Obviously, as with any study, it is just one perspective, but I thought it was interesting to think about.


Also, today is Ash Wednesday...which means that the little bit of Catholic still in me is supposed to give up something for Lent.  As I was thinking about what it should be, I briefly thought about giving up Facebook.  Then I went into premature withdrawal symptoms and decided that was a little extreme.  So, I laughed when I saw this link at the beginning of the article!  My favorite was the one about poking people.

10 Tips for Giving Up Facebook for Lent


  1. Interesting post, Katie! I saw this article too...it's fascinating that the British doctor's credentials include being a Baronness. :)

    On the upside, infants are very direct (no passive-aggression), so maybe having infantile brains won't be so bad. We won't be able to get up to as much mischief!

    But seriously...no doubt all technologies have probably caused changes in human brains. Driving a car requires a different skill set than plowing a field with oxen, so probably our brains changed somewhat to manage those new skills.

    It should be interesting to see what happens next!

  2. Katie -
    Interesting post. One would have to consider that the amount of time spent passively staring at a computer screen, sending "Chanel Gifts" and "superpoking" people can't be the most productive of activities for the human brain. I guess I would argue (with the Tribune) that anyone who spends so much time on Facebook that it's doing enough damage to their brain as to render it "infantile" might have a bigger problem than just Facebook, but that's just me. ;)

    My workplace recently adopted a "no Facebook at work" policy. What I've discovered is that the majority of Facebooking I was doing was at work - not good. When I get home, sometimes I check it on my Ipod, sometimes not. When I was able to step back and take a look at it for what it is, it seemed less and less important to me. Plus, to be honest, Facebook is starting to attract more and more people I maybe DON'T want to be in contact with! I wonder if Facebook is rotting our brains as much as it is re-exposing some of us to the potential toxicity of having to re-live parts of our past maybe we shouldn't or don't want to. It means something different for someone who is, say, 40 to be on Facebook than it does for someone who is 18, 20 or even 30. The reactions to Facebook from different age groups are quite interesting to me.

  3. So, maybe we are turning into babies because we have to have contact with people that we actually knew as babies. ;-)

    I agree that the reactions of people is very interesting depending on age. I am "friends" on Facebook with a lot of my former students, who are mostly in middle school. While I have blocked them from seeing many of my personal items...pictures, status updates, etc...I can see all of theirs. They use Facebook to have conversations with people, whether through video wall posts or back and forth picture comments. It has completely taken the place of phone calls, or so it seems. But that isn't necessarily a passive activity that will "rot their brains." They aren't any less capable of thinking about something or actually making conversation. Sure, their writing and grammar isn't up to par, but at least they are communicating

    What I agree with in the article is the idea that society will begin to rely, more than is already does, on instant gratification. That is, if they send a message on Facebook or IM, they expect an immediate answer. It scares me because I find myself getting impatient when I send an email to someone who is not always online and they don't get back to me RIGHT AWAY. And by right away I mean within like five minutes. I have made a conscious effort to get off of email and Facebook more in the last week or so because I'm seeing myself getting way to reliant on that instant need for gratification.

    And this whole online grad school thing is not helping!