Social Media and the Lizard brain

I wanted to write about Social Media and the Lizard brain. My experience of information technology and Social Media is that it is a great tool for people from different backgrounds to come together and have a calm and logical conversation. Some people believe that “we need a social media with heart that gives us time to think.” I strongly believe that the culprit is not social media but rather the way people are taught to think in general and how the stigmatisation of online interactions has led people to feel negative when using social media.

With a smartphone in your hand, System 1 thinking becomes the dominant mode of thought. Nobody can handle the volume of data in 2016 without relying on ifeelings to come up with instantaneous responses, often triggered by how you see others reacting. There is less scope for deliberation and discussion – the pressure is to make a snap judgment and move on. I love this film, this article is deplorable/fantastic or politician X is a welcome breath of fresh air/duplicitous bastard.

This is an erroneous view. The World Wide Web is a powerful social tool because it allows us to think for a week or two before posting a reaction. Imagine that you are reading a printed newspaper article and you are offended. You write a letter the same day in the hope that it will be published as a reaction to the article. You react without the time to think. Once you send the letter it cannot be edited.

Social media and the World Wide Web allow two things. They allow you to read around the subject. Rather than write based on anger and emotion you can study the topic you are responding to. You can write on reaction, you can rewrite it. You can share that reaction. You can change your mind and you can delete it.

I find it an interesting paradox that articles are written about how Social media require us to use the lizard brain rather than reflect when I personally find the opposite to be the case.

System 2 thinking is slower and more deliberative. You marshal evidence, you exercise judgment, you discuss with others and you try to arrive at conclusions

When I am unfamiliar with a topic I go to Wikipedia to familiarise myself with a topic and there is a good chance that I will read articles on the subject. I really appreciate that in modern life when we find interest in a new topic we can either buy e-books or audiobooks in order to study topics in depth. We start the day with limited knowledge about a specific topic and by the end of that same day, we have enough background information to join the conversation.

To use a cliché social media is not the villain that people are making it out to be. Social media is a conversational tool and a democratising opportunity. When people are taught to think independently, when people are taught to reason, and when people are taught to research topics before writing a response they are productive.

I have a rule. If my response takes more than 140 characters I will drop by Facebook or Google Plus. If it is longer than a paragraph I will write a blog post. By following this logic, emotion is taken out of the post.

Marshall McLuhan talked about hot and cold media decades ago. Social media is a cold medium. The audience needs to do the work. The audience needs to fill in the gaps. Parents, Schools and Universities need to teach people to understand the limitations of the media they are using whilst at the same time teaching them to be critical, to find more than one source before forming an opinion. The problem is not with the medium but with the way in which people are prepared for the new medium.

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