Written by By Anna Margemiller, CNN Mexico City, Mexico
Any enthusiast of technology and digital culture may have heard about the benefits of “posting less and chatting more.” Yet, the truth behind this approach to internet life might be considerably simpler than it seems.
In a study published in the April issue of the journal Telecommunicatios Biologico y Cognitive Societies, researchers from the University of Guadalajara recommended that instead of reducing the amount of information we share, we should adopt the way that people communicate in traditional societies, and simply post less information.
In a recent article for Time magazine, journalist Daniel Jones argues that while technological progress can be a powerful, positive force in society, it “can sometimes obliterate the things we love about life.”
Ardent internet users have repeatedly confessed that they check Facebook and Twitter hundreds of times a day, and many admit to frequently commenting on, liking and retweeting posts on social media, only to subsequently forget what happened to them shortly thereafter.
But it’s possible, argues the University of Guadalajara researchers, that we are spending more time on social media than it is physically possible for us to remember, potentially leading to “fragmented cognitive function.” Therefore, we need to take greater care to help our brains process information more efficiently, and simplify communication.
This is what the researchers recommend. They recommend two ways of doing this: 1) planning so that social media “lives up to the expectation of self-confidence and control” of users, and 2) sharing information “in less frequent, but more carefully-considered and well-structured ways.”
The limits of digital communication
One way is to restrict the time people spend on social media — and to shut down account settings so that you can’t post any more information at a single moment.
The researchers also assert that this is just a first step: “It is wrong to think that avoiding social media is the only way to enhance mental well-being.” They urge “a solution of focusing on what you like on social media rather than on consuming ever-larger amounts of social media content.”
A second recommendation, which comes from research conducted in 2010 by researchers from the University of Maryland and Stony Brook University, aims to help people to embrace the concept of a “time-bound social life”
The model that these researchers based their analysis around can be found in the context of traditional societies, where family, friends and communities have a central role in determining an individual’s well-being. In modern societies, we think of modern society in the following terms: groups we belong to, occupations we do, and media that define our identities.
Yet, traditional societies have tried to involve non-custodial communities in decisions that have great strategic impact on the overall state of the community. Faced with a new reality that represents an intellectual and media frontier, the researchers argue that we should learn to live “in between cultures” and “adjust social values and non-custodial roles in order to maintain a healthy, physical and psychological equilibrium.”
The history of social media use
As we celebrate the birthday of the internet, it’s important to remember that the first “standard” social media platform, MySpace, was created in 2001 as a way for teenagers to interact.
Our earliest use of social media — in discussions of sexual expression and the complexities of their lives — has arguably been one of the most primitive forms of digital communication.
It might seem strange, then, that some of the earliest pioneers of social media in the developed world — around half a century after MySpace — have tried to prevent the spread of their websites, most notably in the United States, where copyright laws have proven to be an obstacle to collaborative community tools like Wikipedia.
We don’t know how long it will take for us to come to grips with the possibilities of social media — to have a defined relationship with it, and to follow the medical, educational and political recommendations of experts.
For now, though, we can take one last look back at the social media milestone that we’re celebrating, and remind ourselves that we did not create the social media revolution by ourselves. The road we have travelled is a very familiar one, from the stone age, to the age of photography, and, now, to the internet.