Is Facebook Making You Stupid?

A new study analyzing groupthink has raised the interesting possibility that social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are destroying people’s capacity to think analytically. This is distinct from similar studies that claim that Google, and the internet at large, have destroyed people’s ability to recall information.

In case you were wondering, the study worked like this: Dr. Iyad Rahwan asked a group of twenty people a trick question over and over again. The first few times he asked the question to the group, the people who got it wrong kept getting it wrong—sticking with their original answers and refusing to give the question further thought. But when they were able to compare answers with other participants before they gave their own final answers, a much greater percentage of the group overall got the right answer. Members with initially wrong answers would tune in to the fact that another member had thought through the question more carefully, and change their own answers accordingly. They weren’t actually putting in more work on their own answers; they were just copying. How did Rahwan know? Because when these participants moved on to the next trick question without being able to compare answers, they went back to giving the wrong answer over and over again.

Rahwan extrapolated his findings onto the larger world of social media and came to the conclusion that Facebook and Twitter are probably hindering the development of analytical thinking skills. I understand why he would say that, but I would refine his assessment slightly. Facebook and Twitter are not forcing people to develop critical and analytical thinking skills. That doesn’t necessarily mean that social media is actually hindering us from learning those skills—social media just allows our foolish complacency to destroy us.

Anyone who has read Neil Postman’s book Technopoly is aware that technology comes with a price. It has benefits of course, but these benefits are not without consequences. Forget the mnemonic damage that Google has wreaked, Postman points out that technological inventions as simple as writing have had a powerful, but “mixed-bag,” effect on society.

Before the advent of printing, people had to actually remember things. Our body of information may have suffered for this, but no doubt each individual member of society was benefitted by the circumstantial necessity of recalling all the important information he might need. As Caliban the savage said of Prospero the intellectual in The Tempest: “Remember first to possess his books; for without them he’s but a sot, as I am . . .”

Mobile devices and the internet have made sots out of us all. They are a sort of extension of our memories that we take along with us. As they have grown larger and more reliable, we have grown smaller and dimmer. And apparently, we have compounded our individual stupidity by borrowing also from the stupidity of others. Such is life in a technopoly.

9 responses

  1. OK, so the Doctor discovered people lie, cheat, and are tricked by a slick wording…. but we have already know that liberals existed. What new?

    • Huh? What does Technology have to do with Liberals?

      You are much like a liberal, you have a us vs. them mentality.

      I would suggest you stay away from FaceBook, as you did not understand the article, and proved the truth of the article.

      • I see you have been on facebook waaaay to long. See, itis called comedy. I’ll give you a one of the definition then maybe it will help you understand:
        professional entertainment consisting of jokes and satirical sketches, intended to make an audience laugh.

        Focus on the satirical portion…

  2. You see the effect in these comment venues. Very few original comments, as a percentage of the whole, that have some thought behind them. A lot of follow the leader until the comments are so far off track as to be a waste of electrons.

  3. Rather simplistic … I use the web to gain additional knowledge that goes into my head. It also allows to determine (yeah … critical thinking) via analysis and deeper review which information is more likely to be correct. I have never been interested in getting “thumbs up” just by going along with the herd. I wouldn’t be where I am today without this basic survival skill.

  4. He is speaking of logic, thinking, which requires effort.You will not have an original thought(invention,process) if all you ever do is repeat the possibly erroneous information stored on the net. It is a good tool, but it must remain only that.

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