Monday, June 28, 2010

The Dark Side of Social Media: Day Twenty-Seven

In general, we have focused on the positive potential of social media. As a business tool it offers tremendous opportunity if used creatively and correctly; see Day Four; Day Eighteen; and Day Twenty-Four. But are there other consequences to the proliferation of social media in our society? Research and observation say yes.

According to Susan Greenfield, Professor of Synaptic Pharmacology at Oxford University, Social Networking is changing children's brains. This is not a change for the better. Her research shows that children who are active in social media risk shorter attention spans, a need for immediate gratification, lack of empathy and loss of personal identity.

From our own personal observations, we are seeing self-promotion becoming paramount to substance. Consider Tyra Banks on The Tyra Show. We squirm at the flagrant exhibitionism but she's certainly got an audience. We see kids like our daughters taking endless pictures of themselves and each other, recording their adventures, mundane though they be, for later enjoyment. There's a profound metaphysical shift in the way we interact and experience the world--a fragmentation of personality--Greenfield confirms this in the article cited above. We seem to have taken the position of an outsider looking in (spectator ab extra) who distances herself from the action and yet comments readily on it. Social media encourages this, but it's mastubatory. In addition to projecting a persona, real or idealized, we are also, in a sense, consuming ourselves.

Regardless of the neurological and sociological consequences, however, social media are here to stay.

Rather than becoming a Luddite, or worse, making it the forbidden fruit that your children will pursue in secret with possibly disastrous consequences, employ safe, family friendly strategies to introduce your kids into this world. Sites like Togetherville and Club Penguin are good entry level social networks that are geared to the younger set.

Speaking of forbidden fruit, marriage counselors report that Facebook is a factor in 20% of the divorce petitions filed in 2009. Relationship advice is not something we are here to dispense but clearly the ease of interacting on Facebook makes infidelity, at least in the emotional sense, a little too convenient, seeing as shaved legs, lipstick, the buying of drinks and opening of doors are not required. If you find yourself spending more time in cyber flirtation than with your significant other, please take a long hard look at both. Signing off now to go say hello to my hubby.

Posted by: Keri and Claire

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