Is Social Media Killing My Brain?

It's certainly killing my attention span. While writing this paragraph I have: followed an ongoing theological/sexuality debate on twitter, seen a spam email about a dating site called “Christian Mingle” which I couldn't have less interest in joining, and a video of Harry Styles being hit in the
Publish date:
March 4, 2013
twitter, social media, facebook, the internet

In the last few years Twitter and Facebook have become regular parts of my every day life; I scroll through timelines and status updates, searching for trends and hashtags, finding out what people I've never met think about subjects I hadn't really thought about before. My immersion in it all sort of crept up on me.

As I write this, I have got Facebook and Twitter open on my laptop, as well as three different email accounts. My mobile phone is by my side, and Kevin McLeod is talking to someone about their vision for a organic, upcycled TOTES SUSTAINABLE ferryman's cottage in the Cotswalds. The last bit isn't social media obviously, but it provides the same amount of low-level white noise and K-McL is funny.

Periodically, I flick between all of these things, checking for news, for the funny videos of cute animals that make up 70% of the internet (the other 30% is respectively – trolling 7%, how shit is the weather/transport/government? 5%, look at this thing, it is a cool thing! 13%, PEEPS, I AM FEELING EMOTION RIGHT NOW 5%).

It feels necessary and normal for me to have all of these things around me, like I'd potentially be missing out on some big important shit going down if I didn't they weren't all there ticking along, waiting for me to check in.

This is sort of fine, in a way, when I'm sitting writing on my laptop, because all of these things might give me ideas to write about, and keep me in touch with friends around the country and world. I signed up a couple of years ago when I was working on my own all day, and quickly got drawn into the short, quick fixes of information and quips.

The problem is that the actual set up of social media, the constant flicking between short bursts of information across multiple platforms, is slowly killing my attention span. While writing this paragraph I have: followed an ongoing theological/sexuality debate on twitter, seen a spam email about a dating site called “Christian Mingle” which I couldn't have less interest in joining, and a video of Harry Styles being hit in the balls by a shoe.

When I was a child, growing up in the beautiful New Forest and quite deliberately not enjoying its many gorgeous trails and paths, I could literally spend hours, a whole day even, just tucked away in a warm corner somewhere reading. Really, I could honestly just read and read and read, without a thought of distraction, without needing to move for food, or the loo, or because someone was screaming “STOP READING THAT BOOK YOU IDIOT THERE IS FREE ACTUAL PIECES OF GOLD BEING GIVEN AWAY OUTSIDE” in my face.

I still love reading, and I can still spend hours doing it, but at the same time I'll be texting, and checking Twitter and Facebook. Now, if I want to have an uninterrupted reading session I will have to make a really conscious effort to turn all my electronics off, hide my phone and unplug everything in sight. And even then I'll still find my attention wandering, and my palms itching for my keyboard or phone. This just makes me feel sad. I'm also worried that I'm apparently now old enough to nostalgically muse on my childhood.

The intimate details of our lives are played out on social platforms so much now, because you can really share as much as you want. I was chatting with some friends the other day about the temptation of embarrassing online over sharing; something so familiar now that there are Twitter accounts set up parodying it.

One of my friends told me that someone she is friends with on Facebook recently found out she was pregnant, and changed her profile picture to the first scan of the baby. On the one hand, that's quite sweet I guess, but on the other she has just shared a picture of the inside of her womb with the whole world.

I love social media, but sometimes I worry that it is an attention-seeking leech, draining away all my powers of attention.

Twitter in particular is exciting, and entertaining. I've met actual people IRL through it, which sounds creepy but really isn't. Usually. I find it's the best way to keep up with news, and I have never in my entire life seen as many kittens as I have since I joined Twitter. In fact, I've probably now seen ALL of them.

But I also worry that the whole online caboodle is creeping into my very psyche. I worry that I'm more easily distracted by things, and that I've started to rely on having a low-level white noise hum around me at all times. It's a bit like sleeping with a fan on in the summer; when the days get cooler and you try and sleep without it you find it's suddenly so much harder without the gentle whir in the background.

If I tried not checking Twitter and Facebook and such, I think I'd start having actual withdrawal symptoms. And it's obviously not just me; people I know are giving up Twitter for Lent, and have chosen it deliberately because it's something they're really going to miss.

I used to try and give up coffee back in the day, because I knew that would really hurt, and now....well, now I don't really bother with Lent because blah blah blah complicated feelings about religion, but still I think that I would find giving up social media harder than giving up caffeine. Really a lot harder. Never leave me Twitter, NEVER LEAVE ME!

On that note – I'm off to look at some more kittens.

Kirsty isn't even remotely giving up Twitter for Lent @kirkycheep.