There's an interesting piece of news about the exploding social network phenomenon, not related to the growing number of users for once: Instead a psychologist is suggesting Facebooking makes you smart while Twittering makes you stupid.
Of course we've heard similar allegations about almost every emerging technology, it seems—generally concerning the relative goodness/badness of a video gaming habit—but this one is interesting because the psychologist in question, Dr Tracy Alloway, seems to be basing it on some actual experience. And that experience includes video games, in a positive manner.
Alloway's suggestion comes from her understanding of "working memory," the portion of your consciousness that helps you remember things and also to utilize the memories. She and her colleagues have even developed a training program, tested on slow-learning kids aged 11 to 14 years-old in a British school. While the sounds kinda creepy, the results apparently speak for themselves: After an 8-week program designed to exercise the working memory the kids IQ's leaped up 10 points on average, and they were better at literacy and numeracy tests.
According to Alloway playing video games, doing Sudoku puzzles and, yes, Facebooking boosts your working memory. In video games it's all about those ones that require planning and strategizing, and in terms of Facebook it's about the complex task of keeping up with all your friends activities. Speaking at the British Science Festival Alloway explained: "I'm not saying they're good for your socialization skills, but they do make you use your working memory [...] You're keeping track of past actions and mapping the actions you're going to take."
The killer line, for Twitter at least, is that, like SMS texting, it's all an instantaneous act—"you receive an endless stream of information, but it's also very succinct [...] You don't have to process that information. Your attention span is being reduced and you're not engaging your brain and improving nerve connections."
So is she right? Nope. Because what Alloway seems to be demonstrating is an incomplete understanding of Twitter. Sure, each Tweet is petite, and many are intellectually uninteresting or inane. But many are not, and they spark off an ongoing interaction or even a conversation with others, via a re-Tweet perhaps. Or they contain a link to an interesting image, or a Web site link that teaches you something new. People who really utilize Twitter are learning how complex an experience it can be—it absolutely requires you to process information and to "engage your brain" and you certainly are keeping track of past conversations and planning your responses. It's as complicated an interaction as one typically finds when using Facebook...with less distraction from dumb casual games. In fact, how people are using Twitter is an evolving process—and one Twitter itself is learning from, even officially taking the re-Tweet meme on board.
Thinking of her conclusions in that light, maybe Dr. Alloway should actually try interacting with people via Twitter, instead of merely trying to grab headlines.
[via The Telegraph]