Susan Greenfield, an eminent neuroscientist, has suggested that use of social networking sites such as facebook or Bebo can ‘infantilise’ the mind, by which she means reduce it to short attention spans, with an inability to empathise and a poor sense of self identity.
However, as with all such bold statements, her concerns about the decline of face to face interaction risks demonising a powerful tool for collaborative learning and 21st century communcation. Other scientists, led by Mizuko Ito, forming the Digital Youth Project at the Universities of Southern California and the California at Berkeley, found that in our increasingly technological world, the constant communication that social networking provides is encouraging useful skills. Their study looked at more than 5,000 hours of online observation and found that the digital world is creating new opportunities for young people to grapple with social norms, explore interests, develop technical skills and work on new forms of self-expression.
Of course clear boundaries and proper safeguarding should be maintained by parents at all times, just as we would for any activity that our children participated in. However, given the interactive, Web 2.0 nature of social networking, wouldn’t you rather your child were socially networking than staring at the mind-numbing, poor role-modeling and language stunting shows prevalent on TV?