How Social Media Is Ruining Our Attention Spans | Teen Ink

How Social Media Is Ruining Our Attention Spans

July 30, 2021
By zarashariff9 PLATINUM, New York, New York
zarashariff9 PLATINUM, New York, New York
21 articles 0 photos 0 comments

In a society that heavily revolves around the global digital library, a tool accessible at the tips of our fingers, humans have never had such easy access to a network of information. With instant messaging, pop-up news infographics, and 15-second entertainment videos, social media users have grown particularly accustomed to receiving their daily dose of information (and amusement) in short increments of time. As a result, our ability to sustain our attention spans for long periods of time is no longer feasible for the majority of individuals.

This phenomenon is not restricted to a user’s interaction with their cell phone. It is the reason why so many individuals– particularly teenagers– struggle to maintain adequate concentration levels, to sit through long reads, to watch full-length TV episodes without succumbing to distractions. Due to the instant gratification that is granted by social media, it has become increasingly difficult for individuals to separate the way they interact with their cell phones and the way they interact with the rest of the world. Thus, our attention spans are impeding on numerous facets of our lives.

Research continues to validate the fears forecasting the long-term impacts of social media. In a study conducted by Microsoft Corp, the rise of social media in the early years of the 21st century has reportedly caused the average attention spans of humans to drop significantly. Since its peak of 12 seconds in the year 2000, researchers found that in 2013, the average attention span had dropped to a whopping eight seconds (Time).

This finding is what led researchers to coin the term “the Goldfish Effect.” The phrase is rooted in the fact that goldfish, notoriously stereotyped as a mindless and forgetful species, have attention spans of roughly nine seconds– meaning that humans now have shorter attention spans than that of a goldfish.

Despite the seeming idiocracy of the statement, it serves to demonstrate just how large of an effect that social media is having on human society. As information continues to circulate faster across our media platforms and human attention spans continue to decrease, it’s important we are aware of this phenomenon and look to prevent its exacerbation.

The Root of Declining Attention Spans
How is social media responsible for such psychological consequences?

The answer is simple: overstimulation.

As a result of the speed at which information is circulated across the internet, the human mind has evolved to process information faster to keep up with our rapid stream of media. As a result, our ability to multitask over different platforms has inevitably soared, and with that comes a surge in attention rates only for short periods of time. We cannot, however, sustain our attention towards so many sources, which explains why when we try to focus on just one source, we experience diminishing returns in our concentration.

“Social networking sites such as Facebook and Instagram are designed in such a way that many things occur simultaneously, which forces us into a phenomenon known as ‘media multitasking’,” says clinical neuropsychologist Andrea Murray. “Contrary to mainstream belief, the human mind struggles to process more than one thing at a time. If we force our brain to multitask, it becomes quickly overwhelmed and overloaded… While we may feel as if we are getting many things done at once, what is actually happening is that a little of one task is done, then a little of another task is done and so on and so forth. But everything ends up taking much longer to complete because we have to take into consideration the time it takes to switch back and forth between each task, and the time it takes us to refocus each time” (Her Canberra).
We’ve grown so accustomed to the neverending stream of media information that refocusing on one single source is infinitely harder. In the process, we are deluding ourselves into believing that this multitasking is beneficial to our productivity, that information overload is advantageous to human society.

This is not to say that there is more important information in circulation than compared to 20 years ago. It instead speaks to the fact that because of social media, information travels faster in our digital age, and we are continuously being exposed to it. Rather than picking up a newspaper, phoning an old friend, or turning on the local news channel, social media provides us with a platform in which we can communicate with anyone and acquire (oftentimes biased) global news in a matter of seconds. Moreover, because of its accessibility, digital communication is enhanced anywhere in the world.

These modern-day habits raise red flags about the way social media is affecting our brains. In 2011, the American Psychological Association found that an overreliance on highly interactive technology is harmful to the brain systems that connect emotional processing, attention, and decision-making. Moreover, it interferes with our sleep-wake cycles, which are vital for memory consolidation and mind rejuvenation. Therefore, the more we grow reliant on our technological systems, the more we interfere with natural brain processes. This phenomenon is attributed to the concept of neuroplasticity, the state which allows our brain to be altered depending upon new experiences that we face (Counter Currents).

Thus, as social media continues to play a larger role in our lives, our brains must learn to adapt to overstimulation, multi-tasking, and high-speed processing. All these factors play into the stark decrease of average human attention spans: namely the Goldfish Effect.

Combatting The Goldfish Effect
The simple answer to reducing this phenomenon is, of course, to spend less time on social media. However, this option is not feasible for everyone: particularly those whose line of work directly necessitates their presence on their social platforms. In this case, having an understanding of the effect of social media on the brain can be extremely influential in reducing its effect. Learning to avoid timeless multitasking and reducing our psychological reliance on technology can train us not to become accustomed to the overstimulation of social media.

In the digital age we are in, we have to accept the fact that with rapid global communication will come consequences to humanity. These consequences, however, can be regulated with an active understanding of their root cause. We can work to delay the Goldfish Effect.

The author's comments:

In the digital age we currently reside in, it is essential we grow awareness around the phenomenon correlating rising social media usage and declining human attention spans.

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