One thing I know about me
While I love the Web, I find social networking rather nauseating.
It wasn't that long ago that if you needed to check a fact, you would have to phone a couple of people, ask those around you, or go to the library. Maybe a combination of all three. Today, if you need to check something, you do a Google search or have a scan on Wikipedia.
Numerous senses and brain processes come into play in the former scenario. Very few do in the latter.
It wasn't long ago that you made new friends at work, at book club or through existing acquaintances. Today, you go online, create a two-dimensional version of yourself, and start logging your every thought and move. Going on a diet? Tell everyone. Preparing for an important pitch at work? Diarise online. Suddenly, you have more friends than original thoughts, and you find yourself getting seriously excited when somebody you've never met has bought a new pot plant.
Numerous senses and brain processes come into play in the former scenario. Very few do in the latter, other than an inflated sense of self and a deflated sense of substance.
Now don't get me wrong - I love the Internet as much as the next person. My credit card overflows with purchases of retro t-shirts, Alfred Wainwright anniversary editions from Amazon and Violetto Romanesco artichoke seeds bought direct from a farmer in rural Piedmont.
There are limits
The Chicago Tribune recently reported that baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, has warned that the instantaneous feedback and impersonal communication offered by social networking sites could drive human brains and behaviour in negative directions.
“As a consequence, the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilised, characterised by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathise and a shaky sense of identity," lectured the wise baroness.
A neuroscientist [...] has warned that instantaneous feedback and impersonal communication offered by social networking sites could drive human behaviour in negative directions.Janet Paterson, editor, ITWeb Informatica
Scientists around the real world agree that sites like Facebook could well influence human behaviour and brain function, although it is only part of the story.
"Social networking sites are very powerful," said Dr Gary Small, a neuroscientist at UCLA and author of the book 'iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind'. "They can really help people in many ways, but they also do have risks.”
Facebook apparently has a “25 random things you didn't know about me” tool, where you can list, um, 25 random things you know about yourself that nobody else does, and send it to all your friends.
Happily, I am not the only person who finds this nauseating. New York Times writer Douglas Quenqua notes: “The idea that real intimacy is achieved by telling 25 people about the first time you saw a horse or the name of your kindergarten boyfriend is, admittedly, worthy of ridicule.” But even worse, Quenqua notes, is the fact that we can learn intimate details of a person's life without actually having to interact with them.
I am addicted to the Web, but one thing I know about me is that I'm allergic to social networking. For which I am eternally grateful because, frankly, I can't afford to be any dumber than I already am.