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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Alarming Article in the (UK) Daily Mail: Is Facebook Harming Children's Brains?

If you take a look at this article in the Daily Mail it will raise some questions which ought to be considered, especially by those of us currently working in education:

Social networking websites are causing alarming changes in the brains of young users, an eminent scientist has warned.

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.


She’s not the only one, by the way. A growing number of psychologists and educators are questioning what these web communication methods are doing to concentration, attention and the ability to understand and absorb conceptual thought.

This quote from Greenfield is revealing:

‘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.’

The fact that one research group has found children spending seven and one half hours a day on line as an average is particularly disturbing. This is time which used to be spent playing with other children outdoors, in physical gameas and activities.

Sue Palmer, author of Toxic Childhood, said: ‘We are seeing children’s brain development damaged because they don’t engage in the activity they have engaged in for millennia.

‘I’m not against technology and computers. But before they start social networking, they need to learn to make real relationships with people.’

And we are seeing this right up to college level now, where students jump into Facebook in the middle of classes, an inability to focus on subjects necessary for passing courses.

Something to think about, isn’t it (says your blogger here, as you spend time on his and other on-line blogs. Perhaps we are part of the problem?)

Under The LobsterScope


  1. ..and while I’ve enjoyed Susan Greenfields books and articles on Neuroscience, this is clearly an attempt to catch the headlines.

    Interesting that her three main theses about the ‘alarming effect of technology on ‘young people’…

    1. Facebook induces short attention spans

    2. Leads to a fantasy idea of other people

    3. Infantilises the developing mind

    …are nearly exactly the same criticisms levelled against technologies Greenfield experienced when younger.

    1. Computer and console games in the 90s

    2. MTV and Pop Videos in the 80s

    3. TV in general throughout the 60s and 70s

    4. Rock Music and Juke Boxes in the 50s

    5. Comic Books and Pulp Fiction before and after the war.

    6. Moving Pictures and the Yellow Press in the early 20th Century.

    This moral alarmism about popular culture goes back a long way. In the UK, it includes the great era of Elizabethan and Jacobean theatre which was associated with brothels and bear baiting and was eventually shut down by the Puritans.

    I actually think that while social networking (or blogging) on the Internet can be highly addictive, it’s actually a lot less passive than TV, film, pop music or comics, and helps to develop some basic literacy skills if nothing else.  

  2. I am glad you pointed it out.  I tend to agree with Brit just said on this.  However, I’m not at all educated on these things.  I have seen enough of the “this new technology is causing ADD” to wonder if the response itself is merely a knee-jerk reaction to change.

    As far as ADD goes, I read somewhere that contact with real people (parents & siblings) is a pretty good way to nip that in the bud.  Human eye-contact, being the operative influence.  I’ll look around to see if that is documented anywhere.

    Either way, thanks for posting this and putting the dialogue on the kitchen table.


  3. What I found interesting about the article was the lack of anything except opinion by the author of the article or the other author, Sue Palmer, quoted in the article.

    Children used to play during the day when they weren’t in school. Now they play online and interact with other kids that way. They have widened their circles. This might be a good thing instead of the negative some people think.

    It would be easy to attribute a decrease in physical development or an increase of obesity due to the lack of physical activity, but even that needs to be studied before coming to conclusions.

    Online activity could just as easily be beneficial to the brains of children as it could be harmful. Perhaps they are gaining the ability to focus on more than one thing at a time. Maybe they are gaining the ability to absorb things faster. Who really knows? Not these people, all they are doing is speculating.

  4. Parenting is the controlling factor between a kid’s environment arbitrarily determining their worldview and any other alternative.   Bad parenting in The Good Old Days of Opie and Aunt Bee led to kids developing short attention spans, fantasy ideas of other people and ifantile minds leading to obesity, gun violence and intolerance.  I blame Aunt Bee, personally.

    After a good bit of work from his mom and I, our son is not using Facebook to keep up with his friends in other geographies.  It’s great, you can see his mind shrivel and his belly swell day to day… ;~)

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