Is Social Media Ruining Our Minds?

By: Chris Richardson - December 25, 2011

Are the effects of multitasking, as well as constant distractions via whatever device of your choosing, causing your brain to rewire, and potentially impacting the length of our attention spa… Oh, look! A Facebook update!

I think you get the idea.

How hard is it to avoid distraction in this day and age of always-connected devices and the social media platforms that offer a constant stream of content that can even be described as valuable on an occasion? Does this type of “multi-tasking” interfere with your ability to concentrate on an individual subject for extended periods of time? With that in mind, what were we talking about again? Let us know in the comments.

While the concept could focus on the general concept of multitasking, the infographic being referenced in this article focuses directly on social media, asking is it ruining our minds. Sponsored by the AssistedLivingToday collective, the graphic offers an extensive breakdown of how these constant distractions are effecting the very way our brains are wi… Wait, what? Did what’shisname really update his Twitter feed!?!? Squeee!!!!

As I was saying before being distracted by various Twitter feeds, the infographic, aside from focusing on the distractions offered by social media, offer this compelling concept: The average attention span, at present, is only five seconds long. 10 years ago, it was 12 minutes. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to “like” my buddy’s Facebook update after watching the new Batman trailer for the tenth time this morning.

The impact of these shorter attention spans — SQUIRREL!!!! — is that 25 percent of us forget names and details of friends and relatives. I tried to explain this to that one guy, but I’m not sure he heard me, or was even paying attention. He was on Facebook, I think. Other factoids of note, right after I check my email again:

– The average worker checks his/her email about 30-40 times an hour
– Um, what were we talking about, again?

With that in mind, whatever it is we we’re talking about will have to wait until the distraction of the infographic is consumed. Be advised, it’s over 5000 pixels tall, although, I forgot what it is I’m supposed to be explaining:

Social Media Infographic

Oh, right, social media distraction. While the graphic implicates the social media industry, there is scant information within the graphic about the very industry in question. Some simple, throwaway facts are present, like so:

500,000 people join Twitter everyday, 12 million Twitter users follow 64 or more accounts, with 1.5 following over 500. The graphic further indicates people spend over 700 billion minutes on Facebook each month, and Facebook users install 20 million mobile device apps everyday.

While there’s no direct correlation between these bullet points and the distraction issue, the relationship is clearly inferred. With all these additional outlets for information/distraction, it easy to see how people are so easily distracted. Furthermore, the data about the attention span should be troubling, but then again, I’ve already forgotten what it is I’m writing about.

Were you able to maintain your concentration while exploring the infographic? Oh look, a shiny device!!!! If you can remember the point the chart was trying to make, let us know in the comments.

H/t to Social Times for pointing this out.

Chris Richardson

About the Author

Chris RichardsonChris writes about the Internet, in all of its unpredictable glory. You can find him on Google+, Twitter, and, of course WebProNews.

View all posts by Chris Richardson
  • Ian Springham

    Fascinating – what was that all about again?

    • Awesome-O


  • Vince Stevenson

    Much as I love my iPad, iPhone and numerous laptops, I for one can switch them off without any problem. I have to as I am always involved in either classroom training, face-to-face meetings with clients or doing my own research and analysis. When I switch them on again, there is usually more good news in terms new clients contacting me. We all need to manage our time effectively. Remember that these things are just tools, and if we don’t need that tool for a while, just put it back in the bag. Regards Vince

  • Shona

    Well the internet is not the only guilty culprit when it comes to short attention spans. I see a pretty clear “ADD” quality to new movies and music as well. In fact my boyfriend, who is 10 years younger than me, goes as far to say that he doesn’t like watching old movies because the “move along too slow”.

  • Kilroy

    Interesting. A concise mass of information there. If it had been longer or more obtuse, I’d have never gotten through it all before….uh oh, update….

  • Barry

    The fact that I am even posting this at 9:43am Christmas morning speaks to your point. Good thing my kids aren’t here yet to see this. Devices are social distrupters. And social media is no different. I use it for updates and very select topics…I jones more about checking email and I hate text messages unless it’s time sensitive and very important that I get the message. The same could be said about gaming consoles or anything that comes between us and a live person.

  • ATK

    I think texting is a good idea… it is a good way of letting someone know you are running 10 minutes late w/o them worrying. As far as videos, you-tube is great to watch the important parts of a 2hr, once a week TV show in under 10 minutes at ones leisure… this allows us to put people first and devote more time to important things… I rarely ever watch TV anymore.

  • Barry

    …..btw….what brainiac sent this email out on Christmas?!?!? #fail #getalife #youaretheproblem

  • don muntean

    It depends on the person going in – of they are surface people in the regular world then that’s what they will be online. Myself I think that internet and online posting has improved my attention span. Of course I don’t care much for Twitter and the character limits. I think it’s really pathetic.

  • Alan

    Very interesting, I’m sure there is much more to come, both positive and negative. So far I’ve avoided adding much video to our advanced driver training courses, and we still do a written test which is followed by a group discussion.

  • Caryn Starr-Gates

    This is great! For me, e-mail is the biggest distraction and most harmful to my productivity. I have Windows 7 and e=mail balloons pop up in the corner of my monitor that visually distract me, then compel me to see what the messages are … all day long.
    As for social media, I do not keep those platforms open on my desktop and log on to view posts or update my own posts maybe twice a day (three times if I am doing it on behalf of clients). Otherwise I’d never get anything done!

    • coyotech

      You can turn off the email notices.

      • Michael in Cannes

        I set my e-mail to only collect mail every 30 minutes to avoid that particular distraction. I’m thinking of extending it to 40.

  • Mr. Wise

    80% of Facebook users either have VERY low self esteem, are very insecure, or have an inferiority complex. Purpose of their Facebook account is to try to impress others, usually with lies. The other 20% are spammers and marketers who obviously use it for business. Which are you? Look at yourself in the mirror now and ask yourself those three questions, if you use Facebook. I guarantee one of the three applies to you. Merry Christmas everybody.

    Mr. Wise :=)

    • Dan

      It all started with my TV commercials phobia. I hate commercials, because they interrupt my intention to watch and see, what I MYSELF I want. I refuse to consume, what I did not order, no matter, what it is, or how good or bad it is, I just don’t want to know, what it is. I decide. I’m proud of my lightening fast delete finger, I always use the middlefinger of my right hand in this special position.
      I hate Facebook, I hate chatting, I hate all this nonsens “communicating”.
      The last dozens of “WebProNews” I deleted right away, but this “Is Social Media Ruining Our Minds?” really got my attention. When I want to read, I read it, and when I have somthing to say, I say it like here. Easy like that.

    • Dave

      You aren’t just making up numbers by chance, are you Mr. Wise? :)

      I would say 80% of people I know in general use Facebook, and there is no correlation between usage and self-esteem. As a matter of fact, the few people who I know who don’t have Facebook accounts seem less socially adept as individuals and have for as long as I have known them.

      Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

  • Norm Clark

    Facebook and the like are big fat jokes and the equivalent of ‘stamp collecting’. I have more friends than you etc.

    I left it after waking up to the false bonhomie of it all. Want contact of a real kind then why not Skype?

  • Mr. Wise

    There is this forum called selfmadevip which has excellent free audio and books which will help you all focus and concentrate on the things that really matter. You Facebookers need to address your mental issues and focus. You are going nowhere in life. You are tackling the unimportant, the tasks that really don’t matter and that yield nothing, while life is passing you by. Have you watched the movie “In Time”? I recommend you watch it.

    Imagine there is a bank account that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course!

    Each of us has such a bank. It’s name is TIME.
    Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds.
    Every night it writes off as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to a good purpose.
    It carries over no balance. It allows no over draft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day.
    If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no drawing against “tomorrow.”
    You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness and success!

    The clock is running!! Make the most of today.

    To realize the value of one year, ask a student who failed a grade. To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of one week, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who just missed a train.
    To realize the value of one second, ask someone who just avoided an accident. To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who won a silver medal at the Olympics.

    Treasure every moment that you have! And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time with. And remember time waits for no one. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why its called the present.


    Merry Christmas

    • Rosaline

      Most online activities do waste our time unless we learn to use them as tools and just tools.

  • Amy

    There is a mistake in the first line of the last paragraph before the graphic. It should be ‘were’, not “we’re”.

  • Bob Rodriguez

    First of all Happy Holidays Chris.

    This is an especially appropriate article today. While I focus on the physical presence of my family and the exchange of gifts and speaking directly to them I realize why I closed my Facebook account and why I am moving away from an artificial life into the real world.

    Social Media also spreads misinformation. Everything can be written (and is) without vetting. Our minds are being polluted by trash and instant digital gratification. The machines are winning and protesters around the globe are being shot to death every day because of “social media”.

    Social Media is not only ruining our minds but it is in some cases directly responsible for ruining the lives of tens of thousands of families.

    • coyotech

      No, social media is just a thing that people use. It doesn’t do anything on its own. Social media lets me do things that weren’t possible before, because I can connect with people I couldn’t have connected with before. But that’s for specific and concrete purposes, which we mostly share. The cause being promoted might be harmful, might be good or might be just practical. It’s a tool to do what people want to do. The desire of the people using it is the problem/benefit, not the tool itself.

      • Bob Rodriguez

        Why don’t you just pick up a phone and/or VOIP these “friends” of yours? At least you could hear their voices!

  • David H

    Shorter attention spans is another way of saying “reducing ability to focus long enough to accomplish complex tasks”.

    Or, “stunted mental performance”.

    Our brains are set up to require, REQUIRE, a myriad of facts and both long-term (learning) memory and short-term (in the moment) charging of our memory banks to actually solve problems and execute tasks that require sophisticated evaluation and decisions on the fly.

    When I try to solve a PHP/MySQL problem, for instance, working on a WordPress site that may also involve Html and CSS stylesheet solutions, I need to harness both things that I have learned in the past and the present short-term coding and changes I have made in the past hour.

    If I cannot stay at a certain “depth” where almost all of my long-term and short-term situational memory is instantly available to me I cannot solve my problems or create new workable solutions.

    The longer I can stay at depth with all of this information loaded into my memory for instant access the more successful I am in the tasks at hand.

    We need all kinds of information loaded into our RAM to solve situations and create workable alternatives. Let alone process a complex health insurance claim and move on to the next one.

    The frustrating thing I have seen over and over and over is how dense and seemingly blind are so-called hosting provider “techs”. I know everytime that I have to deal with a “technician” over a hosting problem that they only seem to read a few lines of any problem ticket.

    Over half of the time and the hours and days that are involved in dealing with so-called technicians is painstakingly getting them to take in the “big picture” which is only a few facts in reality.

    I always feel like they are trained to respond to the first thing they recognize in a paragraph and discard the rest even though it is necessary to reach a real solution.

    I cannot imagine this getting WORSE but I have seen over the past 15 years dealing with just internet problems that it IS worse.

    And I can tell from just trying to have a phone conversation or a live chat that the recipient is simultaneously responding to Twitter, IPhone, texts, etc, while supposedly “in conversation” with me. Many people tell me they never get the feeling that they actually exchanged information with the other person.

    So, I totally believe that the more we accept the increasingly demanding parameters of “social media” that we are approaching a tipping point where words will fly but nothing at all will be received.

  • Yasser Mahgoub

    Yes … Very true indeed. I don’t think that the human brain can handle the “tsunami” of information that it is inundated with every second! We are required to do in one minute what our ancestors were required to do in several days. We are defiantly burning more brain cells than we should. Our brains burnout very rapidly.

    • David H

      Dr. Mahgoub, I agree. Our brains work very well within their design. We are blindly overloading their in-built capacities in the name of INFORMATION and SHARING.

      The consequences? Doubtless we are experiencing some telltale signs of burnout all around us.

      We need rationality to intervene. I do not salute Mark Zuckerberg, for one. He is an opportunist who is too naive to see or too shallow to care about the fallout.

      Twitter is handy but now it is becoming the MAIN tool for too many people and reducing the actual meaningful exchange of ideas and cultures.

      • Watching the Wheels

        Mark Zuckerberg is a cooperative puppet for Jim Breyer. Had he shown ANY true independant though he would have been yanked from the public face of Facebook, as Robert kalin was yanked from public view within Etsy.

  • Bob Sherbondy

    I recognize after years of struggling through courses of study and failures that it really takes some concentrated effort to learn what is most helpful and useful in my efforts to live effectively in this world. And distractions from my desires for my comfort and pleasures, even from social connections with friends, can often hamper this educational process. That is why after 80 years of living, I’m still in the process of learning some important lessons. I have to be constantly careful that I don’t allow the technology of my communication tools to distract me from the reasonableness and importance of what I seek to express in my messages.

  • Ryan Kempf

    no I think it helps that where people spend most of there time

  • Mark Adkinson

    I couldn’t be more in agreement with Chris: I refuse to have my computer tell me when there is a new mail. I have had to program looking at mails to two periods per day, I am about to close down my facebook account and never have had a twitter account as I couldn’t see the point of it: Having said this I have just opened up a facebook account for my company (that is me) and am about to open a RSS feed for changes in the website. But again that is business. I have participated in about 10 social media forums and have just been 2 months without opening them… the first few days were hard like leaving cigarretes but now I don’t miss them and my personal productivity has gone up. I read better and understand more than I was beggining to. You have hit it on the head Chris.

  • Gisela Giardino

    Guess that it’s more correct to say “changing” than “ruining” our minds. Even when I’d rather think it’s ruining them. I have to think that there must have been a same debate when automatic calculators appeared and people didn’t have to make calculations on their own; when recorders appeared and people didn’t have to remember or memorize long string of data by heart anymore; when the cinema appeared and people didn’t have to read a book anymore; when the telephone appeared and people didn’t have to write letters anymore; or when the typewriter appeared and people didn’t have to handwrite anymore… and more drastically, when the light-bulb became massive and the whole day-night light cycle that it is thought to regulate many things not only our brain, was completely overridden…. And so on. You might follow my point. All these have changed how our brains works before, and social media has all those changes nested within which had already occurred. I think that the Personal Computers and the Internet are more to blame of this mind shift / change / ruin, that social media itself. What is true in all cases is that these changes are here to stay and that they are having a huge impact.

    • Josh

      Hi, well calculators are tools for cultural and made science not easy, but fast. Recorders have the task to prove what someone said in the past. Well ask your self why science careers in colleges are almost empty even when we have very very very advanced calculators. Social media is ruining the minds because every topic touched in social media is about entertainment industry, the famous people and everything about entertainment and of course the self expression of ‘Hey guess what I was in Cancun last summer watch my videos and see my pics’… thats my friend, is not cultural, is distraction.

  • EVsRoll

    If it bugs you, turn it off. Believe it or not, you CAN live without it.


  • Ron Nixon

    Excellent article! I make personalized printed books for children. Your article confirms my concern about what we are doing to our children and grandchildren by letting them use electronic devices for hours at a time. (It was much better when we just stuck them in front of a TV all day and let their little minds rot, LOL.

    Thank you for the very informative article.

    Ron Nixon

  • Yaku Rylander

    you answered it on Christmas..and you telling them to get a life?

  • Howard Crane

    hahah brilliantly written article.

    It really took us this long fucking up our brains to realise this would actually be a problem. How do we set this right? Or is Humanity going down the route of Mike Judge’s (banned) movie “Idiocracy”?

    If this problem still eludes people, I suggest they take 250 micrograms of LSD-25 in a therapeutic environment in the company of people they love – and after a few hours, try to look at a monitor and use the Internet.
    Then you’ll know just how alien this technology really is.

  • Josh

    Ok, here we go, I was contracted for a company that was needed of a ISO 14001 certification, the praxis is that the teams have to be formed with 2 or 3 members of each area of the company, IT, HR, Manufacturing, etc. when we were into the praxis of learning what is the norm and all the issues, the *%@# “smart” phones began throwing those little sounds that say ‘hey you stupid, have a new twit, or have new facebook update’ and the people really give to this apps a special importance, more that their own jobs!!! When I said, please turn off your phones, we are here to put attention on what is very important… all just simulated turn off, BUT NO!!!!! then they started to go to the bathroom, WOW now everyone have an incontrollable need for pee.

    Well, what happened? I pass the audition for the certificate alone, because in the final run, no one can remember what they have to do.

    If you ask me, The social media is, listen, not only ruining the minds, but also rotting them. Because sadly, these people really believe that they are important or have important things to do and those things are running on social media. I do not have a fecebook or twitter or whatever account, my life is private and shared with the correct people, because I have 4 circles of friends and do not like to share one things with others, so, whatever, think about next, What is so important inside social media that even you can leave real world for them????

    Social media not only is rotting the mind of the society, is rotting the true social interaction between humans. Because social media just only is the most biggest showcase in the world that brings to the people the excuse to say ‘Hey I have a life and I want to show how narcissistic I am’. My two cents. -wink-

  • Jaap Verduijn

    As a senior citizen I notice a change in my own reading behavior. I used to read at least five books a week for many years, but since the last ten years or thereabout I read far less. This MAY be the result of simply doing other things like spending time online period… but it also may be the side effect of getting used to “short things”. I dunno… but it sure is food for thought!

  • FB Cynic

    For a start there’s no such thing as social media. FB is social media? That is a complete myth! A great vehicle for narcissists, until they realise that no-one really cares how beautiful they look think they look. It is amazing to see the extraordinary lengths people will got to in order to make themselves look better than they do in reality…lol.

    FB is the web equivalent of the RUBIC CUBE; a complete waste of time.

  • Holistic Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy – Los Angeles

    I have noticed a definite decrease in my attention span since devoting hours online, not on social media however. Hours spent online have a propensity to eat into my life, very addictive. My safe little world, insulated from conflict with other people.

    hypnosis hypnotherapy Los Angeles

  • Art

    I thought it was just me with a very short attention span. Wait! I just remembered my dinner is burning.

  • Rod Cook

    Great article and I am sure part of it is true and other parts we will see change with time! Meantime let me get back to Facebook!

  • Watching the Wheels

    I don’t care for the artificiality of social media. I have dropped friends who resorted to email as THE means of keeping in touch. To me, it’s just not “real”.

    Add to the computer generated problems: One of my friends’ sons will probably never be able to get his driver’s license because his peripheral vision never developed to the levels needed to pass a road test. BECAUSE of the computer. he was never active enough within reality land, while growing up, for this vital eyesight function to develope.

    The charts above could tie in to MY theories about the now powerful computer geeks being hell bent in creating a cyberland that fits “their” particular comfort zones. The virtues of the social sites are continually being pushed, and in my oppinion create even more isolation.

    I think that it’s pretty scary IF the likes of Twitter and Facebook can have the power to create hormonal shifts that were once reserved for face to face interactions between people. WTF? Who knows, maybe this is one of the reasons why, whenever I write support in one of the venues I sell on, it takes 2 to 3 letters for me to be able to get the support peep to even know what I’m talking about.

    A 12 second attention span goes pretty far in explaining what I find to be an ever increasing rate of mediocraty and back sliding of work ethics and standards. Who’s to say; it might also explain reality TV shows as opposed to actual scripts of “make believe” that are needed to actually produce a new show. Can’t get much accomplished in 12 seconds, can you?

    I did join Twitter, because it is recommended as a means of marketing for online sellers. I find twitter to be retarded and didn’t even last long enough in the process to be a member of Facebook. I deleted myself from there. I have also cut back drastically with regards to the actual time spent within various forums of the venues that I am involved with. I did find that I would get too aggitated over the inanities that are were “discussed ad nauseum”, and that I also was wasting far too much time being involved with stupid.

    :) Remember the 1980’s movie “Revenge of the Nerds”?, … It’s HERE!

  • Watching the Wheels

    I had begun to read the other comments and thought of another potential problem. I believe that if research was to be done there would be links between cyberland and the ever increasing diagnoses of “Attention Deficit”. The time lines of both the “disorder” and the advancement of the computer are probably VERY correlated.

  • lilinputih

    i always using facebook everyday,

  • lilinputih

    i always using facebook everyday,

  • arlena

    I totally agree with this article. I saw the “need” to check email by friends and family and quickly decided to just use social media first thing in the morning for our business and then we all log off. It can be a useful tool, if used as such, but it can also be much too time consuming if you allow it. Do I personally need to have a virtual farm or cafe that well meaning “friends” send me to join? No! I prefer a real life. I see people cross the street while looking at their smart phones rather than paying attention to traffic. What does this say about where our attention is these days?

  • Bob

    I lost my wife to social media. If I see Mark in front of me I’d lift him up by the neck and demand her password.

  • David McKee

    Lately, I have been working in my workshop, building Tube based Radios of the type my Grandfather used to listen to (Shortwave, Ham, etc.). You actually have to concentrate to do this. I do not bring a computer, or a cellphone, or any other device. My point is Balance. “Social” means interaction with real people. To that degree then, so-call “Social Media” is not social at all, but is a cheap facade’ that tricks the physiological responses of interaction while the truth is, you are interacting with a machine.

    Frankly, an EMP burst in the atmosphere may be the one thing that saves the human race.

    Or, you could choose to balance your life. I will take the latter for now.

    -David T. McKee

  • Don Thompson

    Yes, but. There has been no face-to-face communication since the wide acceptance of the telephone and interactive conversations ended with radio. Actually doing things ended with television, so since we neither communicate nor act, who knows what our attention spans should be.

    Seriously, though, anyone who took a film class (movies, people) 40 years ago was told the average attention span was 2.5 seconds and not even the most riveting scene would be watched longer than 10. The shower scene in Psycho was one of the longest EVER, using a combination of climactic effect, horror and letting the viewers’ imaginations handle the graphic stuff to hold us. The comment that our attention spans were ever 12 minutes long is bogus. (Although for some reason many teachers seemed to think it was 55-60 minutes.)

  • Susan

    You read my mind…more information & more to sift through, not necessarily more quality copy

  • Dinesh Mistry

    I could not agree more, great article. Children today are growing up in a different world, and may be not for the better.