Social networking ‘infantilizing’ users’ brains?

The social-networking backlash is taking a new form as we move past the predator panic's peak. A fresh sign of digital-non-native uneasiness about the social Web concerns its neurological and psychological impact. Oxford University neuroscientist and Baroness Susan Greenfield made headlines today with her comment that social network sites are "infantilizing the brain," reminding her "of the way that 'small babies need constant reassurance that they exist'," as quoted in The Guardian, The Daily Mail, a New York Times blog, and many other news outlets. Among other things, these social-media critics seem to think that "real life" and online socializing are entirely mutually exclusive, when research shows that – among teens, at least – online socializing is very grounded in their offline social lives. Times blogger Robert Mackey is more analytical than the British reports, thankfully, pointing out what appears to be a very superficial understanding of how social sites are being used. I'd dearly love to hear Dr. Greenfield and Dr. Aric Sigman (whose comments appeared in the BBC's "Online networking 'harms health'" last week) debate social media researchers Mimi Ito at Stanford University and danah boyd – or Canadian author of Born Digital, Dan Tapscott, who says, yes, digital natives' brains are being wired differently, but that's a positive (see Yahoo Canada). Cross-disciplinary study of what's happening in a medium whose uses and users are as diverse as humanity itself would be good! [I loved the readers' comments under the Times blog, one of which was: "Let’s give this an honest headline, shall we? 'Two Neuroscientists Hypothesize Social Networking Bad, Offer No Data'"! Your comments would be most welcome too – in this blog, in our ConnectSafely forum, or via email – anne(at)!]

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