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Is Facebook Bad For Young Brains?

Here's another reason not to use Facebook: social networking websites may actually harm brains of its young users!

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.

The claims from neuroscientist Susan Greenfield will make disturbing reading for the millions whose social lives depend on logging on to their favourite websites each day. [...]

'We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist,' she told the Mail yesterday.

'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.'

Her comments echoed those she made during a House of Lords debate earlier this month. Then she argued that exposure to computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms and social networking sites could leave a generation with poor attention spans.


*Facebook, Twitter and Bebo are said to shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred.

*Replace with 'bad parenting'
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I think she may have a point. Her argument is not 'ban these networking sites and computer games' but that we should pay more attention to them and to young people. We should keep an open mind as to how these things may be affecting our society and whether these effects are desirable.

For myself (I'm now in my mid-20's), I can certainly recognise some changes in my attention span that I can attribute partly to the internet. I have lost the ability to sit down and read a big book in one sitting. My mind turns to other topics constantly. This means I wil be reading 3 or 4 books at the same time, going from one book to the next - much like flipping between articles on different tabs of my webpage :)

So I think her argument has some merit but should not be taken as proof that the internet is ruining our children!
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so let's say we remove the social network pages. then there's going to be something else that's bad for us... Soon we're left with sitting silently at home practicing extending out attention spans.

There's always something that's at the top of the list of things that are bad for you. take the top off and something new flows right up there.
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The evils of social networking sites was debunked pretty elegantly at Mind Hacks just the other day. I don't know if I can post a link here, but the name of the article is "Facebook causes marble loss".
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Well I, as another random person with a useless opinion about something, think Ms. Greenfield should seriously reconsider those bangs.
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And it actually makes sense, Honestly, I won't dismiss this as pure gibberish.

I'm 15, and I honestly admit that these sites, do seem to affect my attention span and my demand for speedy results. Which is in accord to her statement with "instant gratification" - not in a bad way people.

This, need for speed, so to speak, can be viewed in a positive light, that is, if everyone would be influenced with this idealism. If everyone, would be in the same page of wanting things instant, right dead now, then people would be acting in accordance to that, and things- innovation, can be produced in an even quicker pace. Considering the fact that this would also ignite the youth to demand more than just instantaneous replies through their social networks, naturally, this sort of thinking will apply to everyone's lives (every modern youth) and in the future we can expect innovations that would satisfy that craving.

Thus, the possibility of faster transportation, faster food production, faster transactions, faster- everything! it's the demand of it all. :]
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Yeah, about that... According to $4 million of actual research by Don Tapscott, this generation is the "smartest, most ethical, civically engaged and politically active in history... and they just elected their first president."

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint." -- Hesiod, 8th century BC
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You know what I have found? A lot of people have opinions that they manage to get out to the general public without any real research to support them.

Guess what? Kids are self centered and have short attention spans. And if they have crappy parents, they will never outgrow that. Why is it that instead of putting the blame where it belongs, people want to blame the world around them for their kids' failings? It used to be rock and roll and television. Now it's social networking.
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where some see short attention spans I see multitasking, instant gratification = getting the job done faster. Its all how you look at life.
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interesting how the 15 year old is one of only 2 commenters providing the only real critique/observations so far... it's the rest of you who are self-centered and have no time for the discussion (but can't wait to jump in and dis it - this site is sort of a social network as well, by the way, even though we don't get too personal here)
to VampPrincess, I have bad news for you. this idealism and need for speed that you speak of - whew, when you become an adult, you'll see how utterly poorly managed most systems of (anything) are in human society, and that if you don't join in and play the games, you'll be labeled an antagonist, and life will be harder to get thru (ask Greg Palast, or the Unabomber). Even though advertising and parental morality sell you a possible future of idealism, the reality is that all idealistic dreams of youth must be thrown out, because the humans NEED to continue their games of war, domination, greed, religion, power. even though it's clear we could collectively solve all issues (poverty, hunger, disputes) were the political impetus so inclined, it will not go that route. (these 'billions' getting tossed around now to keep failing systems afloat could easily house, feed and educate everyone on the planet - do you see anyone considering that?!) someone said recently in a study that it should take another 300 years before we all get on the same page and actually see something evolved to 'world peace' and coordinated survival. BUT?! we can see it now, so why don't we do it now? because we are losers with short attention spans who need immediate gratification, and in order to defend the ridiculous status quo, we dismiss things outright as bunk, and have convoluted arguments about everything, including this one, so we can prop up our egos
- by the way, faster is not always better. better is always better. a carrot needs to be in the ground and grow - pumping it with chemicals and super nutrients so we can hurry up and feed the too many people we keep producing, is poor logic, and will produce future problems (weaker future soil, lower quality carrots, chemical runoff creating imbalances in nearby lakes killing fish, poorer nutrition for those eating the carrots, possible cancers, other unseen issues) - technology sells us 'speed' as though we need it (where else will it get its money from if it doesn't convince you of its necessity?), when frequently we don't. I saw a 1970's movie the other night, and a 30 year old with me said - "look, no computers in the office"... my god! how did we do it?! how did we survive?
a quote from the article:
'I often wonder whether real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf,' she said.
and what about how we grow that meat - look into pig farming for some scrumpdillyishus education on how we turn a blind eye so we can eat that bacon
ps I am not supporting the criminal acts of the Unabomber, but if you read his manifesto, you'll see he was no dummy and quite the angry idealist
(ok, now here comes the vitriol- see below)
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What?! Man, the "entitlement me me me" generation thing has been happening about three times longer than Facebook has been around. What with parents coddling their kids with, well, kid gloves, never saying no, and treating them like they're the center of the friggin' universe... I work at a university and I've been seeing this downward spiral since probably about 1998. Whomever upthread said it, said it best, basically it's bad parenting... plain and simple.
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Theres not alot of people where i live, and i'm quite lonely. So i am very grateful that i have instant messaging.
But we must agree about the "encourage instant gratification and make young people more self-centred."
thats 100% true... i see it all the time.

gah! she can speak badly about Facebook/myspace all the time she wants, i hate these websites with a passion.
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Dude, this woman makes young internet users sound like a bunch of jittery, excitable, tweakers who can't wait for their next, well, anything. I'm OKAY with being chill and waiting. Long sermons and lectures are certainly not my favorite thing, and neither is standing in line. But I am totally content to be quiet and watch the leaves blow in my back yard. I can read a book (I actually happen to LOVE reading) and I can sit through a movie, and I sit through lectures as I am a student. And I AM a facebook/internet user. I'm sorry, but the people with the shortest attention spans I know are old people who don't EVER use the internet. While young people are content to just hang out, the old people are the impatient frustrated annoyed ones. They often cut in line, they are often demanding and impatient at the pharmacy/checkout line, etc. I don't see any more old people checking out books at the library than young ones, and they don't sit through long sermons or lectures any better than anyone I know. I don't understand this line of thought. Yes, facebook and myspace make us narcissistic, but so do makeup and clothes. So does television. So do movies. Anything outside ourselves makes us reflect UPON ourselves. That's just how life works. And gtron, you are right. Faster isn't *always* better, but sometimes it is better.
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The entire hypothesis is interesting,and it may or may not be backed up by actual evidence at some point. But right now, it's not. And if we actually examine what this woman is saying...

"We know how small babies need constant reassurance that they exist"

Does not in any way actually support the idea that

‘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.’

First of all, she hasn't provided any proof that "small babies need constant reassurance that they exist"; so she's assuming facts that are not in evidence. But let's say just for the sake of argument that this supposition *has* been proven. The problem is that she doesn't go on to actually prove in what specific ways specific types of technology might actually cause the same type of effect. Yet another problem is that "needing constant reassurance that (they) exist" clearly isn't the same thing as having difficulties with attention and concentration. Then this supposed "top neuroscientist", who can't understand how her argument lacks the most rudimentary kind of logic, goes on to vaguely mention how she thinks all of this has been proven by some sort of attention problems she sees in children.

I really don't care that she's the Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Lincoln College, Oxford. She has to back up her statements with logic and reasoning. Credentials do not impress me and they should not impress anyone if they exist in the absence of basic logic and rational thought.
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Well Anise, small babies do need attention in order to survive. There was a study done decades ago when researchers tried to raise children without ever speaking to them, and all the babies died. But you do have a decent line of logic going, there simply isn't a logical thread going from "babies need attention" to "adults who need attention are babies."
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> Then she argued that exposure to computer games ...
> could leave a generation with poor attention spans.

Interesting, considering how all recent studies show that computer games actually increase attention span, as well as eye / hand coordination and logical thought processing.
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