Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Thought Control Over Vulnerable Minds-At-Risk

Baroness Susan Greenfield, a neuroscientist at the University of Oxford, member of the House of Lords, and Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain recently warned that the instant feedback associated with social networking sites like Facebook -- what she describes as "signing up for friendship through a screen" -- as well as the impersonal manner of communication associated with them, could have perilous effects on the human brain. Greenfield foresees a future in which human adults have severely reduced attention spans, much like children. In her recent speech on the subject to the House of Lords, she underscored a number of potential dangers:

"First, I would suggest attention span. If the young brain is exposed from the outset to a world of fast action-reaction, of instant new screen images flashing up with each press of a key, then such rapid interchange might accustom the brain to operate over such time scales. Perhaps when then back in the real world, such responses are not immediately forthcoming, we'll see behaviours regarded as Attention Deficit Disorder. It would be very helpful to investigate whether the near-total submersion of our culture in screen technologies over the last decade might, in any way, be linked to the three fold increase over that time in prescriptions for methylphenidate, the drug prescribed for ADHD.

"Related to this change might be a second area of potential difference in the young 21st Century mind, a much more marked preference for the here-and-now where the immediacy of the experience trumps regard to any consequences. After all, whenever you play a computer game, you can always just play it again.

"This type of activity, a disregard for consequence, can be compared with the thrill of compulsive gambling, or the thrill of compulsive eating. Interestingly, as an aside, one study has shown that obese people are more reckless in gambling tasks. In turn the sheer compulsion of reliable and almost immediate reward is being linked to similar chemical systems in the brain that also play a part in drug addiction. So my lords, we should not underestimate the 'pleasure' of interacting with a screen when we puzzle over why it seems so appealing to young people. Rather, we should really be paying attention to whether such activities may indeed result in more impulsive, more solipsistic attitudes.

"Attention deficits; compulsive behavior; disregard for consequence; increased solipsism. And when one considers where western civilization could go if we continue to decline in our capacity for sustained and painstaking attention to a single matter over long periods of time...

"And beyond the valid concern about what social networking sites can do to the mind, I'm even more concerned about what they are doing to our ability to interact socially, and most of all what they are doing to our understanding of friendship and human love. Can you really call a person with whom you've exchanged an email and/or perhaps spoken to on the phone once or twice or met once a "friend"? That's not only a sickly impoverishment of the notion of human friendship; it's downright dangerous for a healthy culture."

Contrast, for just a moment, social networking's potential corruption of true human friendship with the free-flowing thought of John Paul II about young people and the common vocation to love:

"Young people... know they must live for and with others, they know that their life has meaning to the extent it becomes a free gift for others... It is this vocation to love that naturally allows us to draw close to the young...It is necessary to prepare young people for marriage, it is necessary to teach them love. Love is not something that is learned, and yet there is nothing else as important to learn! As a young priest I learned to love human love... If one loves human love, there naturally arises the need to commit oneself completely to the service of "fair love," because love is fair, it is beautiful" (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Knopf, 1994, 121-123).

Such a population is vulnerable to thought control by a media that is more advertising than true-to-life news and critique.

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