Social Media is Confusing to the Brain

Original comments for an interview in Esquire Magazine with Luke O’Neil

Animal videos, family news, staying connected and innocent jokes were the original intent of social media but when you deviate, there is the potential for problems for you and others. Fake news, political arguments, hostile or inappropriate content and even enhanced images can confuse social media. And when you are switching back and forth, for example from an image of a mistreated animal to a funny video and then back to a more serious post, the brain has to multi-task and switch quickly which may not be good in the long run.

While all media has been switching moods for some time, as images that range from horrific to banal, but with social media the speed and frequency is greater. Does the brain have the time to process it all? Not usually, because you aren’t sticking with anything long enough for it to really sink in before moving to the next post. And that can diminish the involvement and attention that something you deem worthy gets from you. Most of all, your brain and emotions are pressed to multi-task at a level that can cause fatigue and over the course of life, can even cause wear and tear on the brain. For women, who typically multi-task more, the result is memory loss in later life.

The upside is that, continually switching images inhibits a full reaction to a disturbing post and that isn’t always a bad thing. It causes “pattern interruption” and shifts your mood in a good way. However, if there is a post that touches you or that you connect with, stay with it and feel the full range of your reaction before moving on. Most disturbing information does not require dwelling, but some is meaningful and triggers something that you may want to pay attention to, if you have time.

I shared with Esquire that information overload isn’t new, nor is Twitter, TV news, or magazines and newspapers, They have long presented the worst alongside the mundane. The difference is that social media makes the experience more passive. You have less of a choice because with other forms of media, you can change the channel, close the magazine or shut down in any way you choose. But with twitter the information comes at you fast and furious.

There is a LOT of information about how distracting it is to constantly be checking posts, and the info shows that it causes lack of attention to tasks, anxiety and sleep issues. It’s easy to say spend less time on social media, but for a lot of professions, it’s crucial to stay on top. Staying grounded and oriented to the task at hand requires sitting back from this chaos in order to have a healthy response. In my most recent book, Get Reel: Produce Your Own Life, I explain what I call “conscious viewing.” When you view any video, post, movie, etc. view consciously. so that you see exactly what it is presenting and be ready to step back from it if it isn’t constructive. It’s kind of what you do automatically when something is too violent, but is a conscious decision.

I explained to Esquire reporter Luke O’Neil, that shutting down is easier said than done, particularly as social media apps actively keep you addicted, but noticing that something has become a problem for you is always primary for any dependency. When you are wading through your posts decide what is worthy of your attention and what is not. Allow yourself to receive information that is important to you more deeply, by conscious viewing.Take a moment to ask yourself how something is this affecting you? Is it inspiring, compassionate, humorous? Checking your reaction puts you back in charge.

Some Key tips for managing social media:

  • Stay away from political discourse on a family friendly site, such as Facebook.Too many people lose friends due to political disagreements that went public this way.
  • Block any sites that are disturbing.
  • Get your news from news outlets and publications, not social media and don’t subscribe to news sites on social media
  • Limit social media time and use of devices in the family
  • No devices on during sleep
  • Never fall for false associations ( like the ones in ads, that show a beautiful couple dancing to french music and the product is something like potato chips or bath fixtures The same connections are made in news as in advertising, there is no logical connection or a slim one, but it can stick. I explain this in my award-winning book, Get Reel: Produce Your Own Life. I have coined the term adsociation© – an ad or news post creates an association that does not exist, and it applies to all media. Once you say something and associate it often enough, it can become a part of your thinking. The TV ad about the apple is a great “pattern interrupt,” because it reminds you that no matter how many times you are told that an apple is a banana, you know it is not. And that is good advice for all media viewing.

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