Twice now in the past few months, I’ve come across science that suggests that social media is bad for developing brains. Specifically, researchers including Sherry Turkle of MIT, who I’ve referenced before because she’s been studying this phenomenon since the 1970s and knows her stuff, are finding the following:
- The connectivity made possible by interactive technologies is a wondrous thing when used by people who are mature and self-confident.
- Interactive technologies delay development of people whose brains have not yet fully matured.
- Interactive technologies can provide a crutch for people who aren’t getting the emotional support they need from the real world… and the jury’s still out on whether or not this is a good thing. (Existing research on what happens when monkeys downgrade from a real living mother to a placebo gives us reason to doubt.)
The reactions I’ve gotten to this message are pretty much split along generational lines: older folks say this research verifies the obvious. Younger folks tell me—almost to a person—something along the lines of, “The research describes a general trend, but it doesn’t describe me. I’m not the norm.”
Younger generations will probably find it aggravating to know that science can also predict their overconfidence.
Social media is ushering in some pretty amazing changes; frankly, I think what we’re experiencing today is as dramatic and revolutionary as when the printing press was invented, and that the fruits of this revolution will be every bit as amazing as the Renaissance.
But let’s not kid ourselves: we’re not at that Renaissance yet. We’re barely digitally literate! So use social media to connect, yes. Play with it. Push its limits. Explore and experiment. But every now and then, pick up the phone or go to lunch with someone, and turn a connection into a relationship.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.