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Is Social Media Making Us Dumb?

The explosion of social media has been nothing but a phenomenon.  Communities, twitter, facebook, linkedin and other networks allow us all to instantly share articles, thought leadership, books, tweets, PPTs, news, events, and more.  And the more we engage in social media, the more I'm starting to wonder if social media is actually making us smarter and more enlightened OR if we are simply becoming dumber by the day.

While I see tremendous value in the online links and information and articles that are shared into and throughout my social networks, social media seems to be influencing the world with "NBC Today Show"-like headlines and content containing lightweight, high level fodder and sound-bytes from whatever happens to be your knowledge domain of choice.  While blogs provide fantastic ways to share insights into communities of interest, more and more the posts I see are generally less than 400 words, conversational in tone, and read like "Top 5 Ways..." or "Top Reasons Why" to promote sharability.

I also see social media trending towards the 60 minute webinars and 10 minute videos and tweets of less than 140 characters to capture people's attention, promote your services or product like an online infommercials to capture sales leads and create brand awareness.  I see individuals simply updating their LinkedIn profile with so-called books from their Amazon reading list just for the sake of sounding intelligent and creating a perception that they actually stay current on the latest trends and buzzwords like Tipping Points or Flat Worlds or Synergistic Change.  Of course we are all soooo busy that there is no way we have read or even will attempt to read these books.   I also see the latest tweets from the Harvard Business Review being shared around and emailed throughout our social networks as if we are some enlightened thinker of strategy and management with some inspirational message of change.  And then there's addicting site of speeches & lectures from REAL thought leaders and experts throughout the world...and who doesn't "heart" Ted?  Of course social media now allows junkies  to share online lectures and speeches like a drug dealer handing out free  samples on the street.

Let's face the fact that because of social media, everything is starting to look and sound like Cosmopolitan Magazine and USA Today headlines.  Now I will admit I too am guilty of proliferating this trend to simply keep up with the "Jones" as the experiment of social media evolves and becomes "mainstream".   The reality is... because of social media, today anyone, at any level, from anywhere has access to the same sound bytes of information as you.    Maybe your niche is technology or six sigma or project management or talent management or even information management!!! ... Social media allows anyone to act like an expert, pretend to be an expert, and promote themselves as an expert.   Because of social media....we just might be proliferating the Dilbert principles we all know and love so well.   We are possibly becoming dumber and allowing the mediocre to gain a competitive advantage or at least sound like they actually know what they're doing or are an expert in their respective domain.

What say you?  Are you jaded in your thinking like this?  OR are you enlightened and encouraged by all that social media has to offer?

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  • RichBlank's picture
    Aug 2 Posted 6 years ago RichBlank

    here's a perfect example that illustrates my points above... 5 P's now 25? and ending with a big happy face...6000 views and over 300 retweets so far..   all good light fodder for sharing...but nothing of real substance in that post (no offense to the post author)

  • Aug 2 Posted 6 years ago Rich (not verified)

    Thanks for the comments.    Breadth vs. depth is the real issue.   There's so much information shared in online social media world it is nearly impossible to dive deep....instead we go broad and learn a little about a lot of different things.  Breadth is great for starting or having a conversation....however, I prefer depth when it comes to getting work done with a certain level of quality and expertise.

  • Aug 2 Posted 6 years ago Courtney (not verified)

    Ok, I understand the idea that we maybe getting dumber by the minute because social media has changed the way we absorb content.  We are all skimmers, headline readers and our grammar has hit rock bottom (myself included).

    However, I can't help but remember the mantra stuffed into my head at Journalism school, KISS or "Keep It Simple Stupid."  We were encourage to have stories under 500 words that gave all the information needed.  You had to understand that a reader needed to want to read your story from the title and the 1st paragraph. I don't think we are getting stupider because of the word count or phrasing.  I think that we are connecting with the audience in their language.  We are talking with them like people and not professors. 

    The world is learning that if you can say it in fewer words than more people will listen. 

    Please let me know if this all makes sense or if I seem as non-sensical as the next 'guru'. 

  • Aug 2 Posted 6 years ago Pauline Alvarado (not verified)

    Great article! Another way to think about Social Media dumbing us down is the fact that most information, content, and interaction requires absolutely a short attention span making it harder on a person to really research, take time, absorb, and analyze information. The fact that there are a ton of information out there makes it harder to spend time on a certain subject because in the search of being an "expert" you have to read EVERYTHING. Don't get me wrong, Social Media is great but there are it's drawbacks. Lately, I've been taking time away from the computer and taking time to read books.

  • Aug 2 Posted 6 years ago Paul Sutton (not verified)

    Hi Rich

    This is a really interesting discussion point, and one that I also wrote about a couple of months ago following the excellent BBC mini-series The Virtual Revolution. In my post I asserted that as we become more used to tools like RSS and 140 character status updates, we will lose the power of concentration, swapping in-depth reading, knowledge and conversation for skim-reading, surface-level understanding and brief interactions. The outcome will be a society that knows little about lots, but lots about little.

    Whether or not this is true remains to be seen, but I think there's certainly an element of truth in what you say about "allowing the mediocre to gain a competitive advantage". I guess what it comes down to is that I (and you?) hope that the cream will also rise to the top. From personal experience, I've been reading social media/communications blogs avidly for about 9 months and after all that time I can now spot the good ones, from the people who genuinely know their stuff a mile off. Given time, I hope this becomes the case across the social web.


  • Aug 1 Posted 6 years ago Eli (not verified)

    Well... I agree and disagree. I believe some of us will always be getting dumber by the minute, while others of us will always be getting smarter by the minute. At least it seems that way. To me, it seems that has always been the case pretty much since the beginning of time.

    In other words, it will all depend, as always, on which information and which tools each individual chooses and how that individual uses and/or ignores the tools and information at his/her fingertips.


    Or maybe I just got a little dumber...  ;*)

  • Aug 1 Posted 6 years ago Goodone (not verified)

    We may very well be "dumbing down" ourselves, and yet the point that struck me in the post was about how we are manufacturing so called "experts" on the fly.

    I recently notcied one Twitter account with over 100,000 others this person was following.  Can that even be possible, effectively?

    It's seems like the 1000 page report handed into the teacher that says absolutely nothing.

    Guess we'll figure it all out sooner or later.

  • Jul 31 Posted 6 years ago Antoine Didienne (not verified)

    I could not agree more!! I posted an entry of similar content on my blog after reading a couple of articles in the WSJ online.

    Shirky believes it's all good, and everything is just dandy, that the long trail eventually produces quality content, and, get this, that we are capable (as a crowd) to reproduce Einstein's work because of the mere size of the participants.

    Have you heard of Jaron Lanier and Nicholas Carr? If not, they are a good representation of the diametrically opposite representation of Shirky's looney ideas. We are getting dumber by the minute. Because of the content being spread through the web as well as the fact that we don't have to remember anything given that all knowledge is now available at the tip of our fingers.

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