24 Feb 2012

Twitter, bad for our brains?

As Twitter’s Biz Stone says too much time spent on social media “sounds unhealthy”, Channel 4 News hears from a neuroscientist, the author of the Geek Manifesto and a self-proclaimed Twitterholic.

Twitter, bad for our brains?

Speaking to Channel 4 News Presenter Matt Frei (@mattfrei), Baroness Greenfield argued that too much time spent on Twitter would “exclude proper life”, while Mark Henderson (@markgfh), author of The Geek Manifesto, said that, on the contrary, social media “builds communities”.

Greenfield, a scientist and writer who specialises in the physiology of the brain, stated that she spent “no time” on social media at all.

She said: “Our brains are adapted to do many things and if one obsessively does one thing, then by definition you’re excluding other things like living in three dimensions and having experiences.”

She believes people who spend several hours a day on Twitter or Facebook are missing real life.

“If it’s five hours [spent on social media] it’s five hours not giving someone a hug, not feeling the sun on your face, not feeling the wind in your hair, not having an ongoing relarionship in three dimensions.

“It’s up to you to decide how much time you put a premium on those things.”

Matt Frei's blog: I tweet therefore I am

Mark Henderson said: “The wonderful thing about Twitter is when you are feeling the wind in your hair and you want to tell other people about it, it’s very easy to share that experience.”

He said: “You use it in short sharp bursts, you will have it in the background and when you have something to share you’ll then call it up.”

Twitter fan Kamran Assadi.
Confessions of a Twitterholic
@kamranassadi told Channel 4 News: "I tweet everywhere and anywhere! Regardless of how busy I am, I make time to tweet!" So we asked him why - he answered each question in less than 140 characters (the limit per tweet).
How many hours a day do you spend on Twitter?
I'd say about 12-14 hours on and off, it fits around my life. I’ve even tweeted whilst holding my daughter in my arms! Even at her birth!
Why do you spend this much time on social media?
I love technology but I really like interacting with people and keeping in contact with them. And I’m nosey! Love gossip/listening to music!
Does it add to or replace real-world interactions?
It adds to them. It allows me to connect with more people. It’s so convenient because I don't have time to connect with everyone I want.
What would you say to Baroness Greenfield?
I would say she's wrong. I make time to do that. I have a life, I meet my friends but life & technology's advancing, we must embrace it!
Do you think you'll be tweeting in five years from now?
Ha ha! Yes I will! I'll be teaching my daughter to tweet. My wife says Twitter is my secret mistress. That's how you know I'm addicted!
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone.

The social media Biz

US entrepreneur Biz Stone, 37, is co-founder and creative director of Twitter, which first entered our digital lives in 2006. Within a little more than five years, the microblogging site has grown from an experiment involving a handful of people to a global network of around 500 million users.

Speaking at the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Stone said: “I like the kind of engagement where you go to the website and you leave because you’ve found what you are looking for or you found something very interesting and you learned something.

“I think that’s a much healthier engagement. Obviously, we want you to come frequently.”

Andy Dickinson (@digidickinson), a lecturer and self-professed “geek” told Channel 4 News: “I think it’s good that he is reflecting on what the platform he created has wrought.

“If anyone is qualified to ponder that he is. In the end, he just made the platform not the people who use it so it might be a little churlish to criticise him reflecting or expect him to take some responsibility.”

Martin Bryant, from The Next Web, said: “Having frequent, light exposure to social media throughout the day can be truly beneficial as an information source as well as a way to enrich your life with conversations you’d never be able to have in your everyday life.

“Biz was just giving a sensible answer to a question,” he added.

“Twitter is trying to promote itself as a destination for information – a place that people visit to consume as well as share. Communicating in 140-character bursts is of limited appeal to the population as a whole and at some point Twitter will reach the limit of people who actually want to do that.

“It wants to position itself as a place people come to find out the latest information about things that interest them.”