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  1.  (5587.1)
    Look what I found on CNN, constantly bringing you the latest news about Obama's dog:

    Rapid-fire TV news bulletins or getting updates via social-networking tools such as Twitter could numb our sense of morality and make us indifferent to human suffering, scientists say.

    Scientists say updates on networking tools such as Twitter are often too quick for the brain to fully digest.

    New findings show that the streams of information provided by social networking sites are too fast for the brain's "moral compass" to process and could harm young people's emotional development.

    Before the brain can fully digest the anguish and suffering of a story, it is being bombarded by the next news bulletin or the latest Twitter update, according to a University of Southern California study.

    "If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people's psychological states and that would have implications for your morality," said researcher Mary Helen Immordino-Yang.

    The report, published next week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition, studied how volunteers responded to real-life stories chosen to stimulate admiration for virtue or skill, or compassion for physical or social pain.

    Brain scans showed humans can process and respond very quickly to signs of physical pain in others, but took longer to show admiration of compassion.

    "For some kinds of thought, especially moral decision-making about other people's social and psychological situations, we need to allow for adequate time and refection," said Immordio-Yang.

    She said the study raises questions about the emotional cost, particularly for young people, of heavy reliance on a torrent of news snippets delivered via TV and online feeds such as Twitter.

    She said: "We need to understand how social experience shapes interactions between the body and mind, to produce citizens with a strong moral compass."

    USC sociologist Manuel Castells said the study raised more concerns over fast-moving TV than the online environment.

    "In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in."

    Research leader Antonio Damasio, director of USC's Brain and Creativity Institute, said the findings stressed the need for slower delivery of the news, and highlighted the importance of slow-burn emotions like admiration.

    Damasio cited the example of U.S. President Barack Obama, who says he was inspired by his father, to show how admiration can be key to cultural success.

    "We actually separate the good from the bad in great part thanks to the feeling of admiration. It's a deep physiological reaction that's very important to define our humanity."

    Twitter, which allows users to swap messages and links of 140-characters or less, says on its Web site that it sees itself as a solution to information overload, rather than a cause of it.

    This function, It says, "means you can step in and out of the flow of information as it suits you and it never queues up with increasing demand of your attention."


    It seems to me they might be taking this a little bit too seriously and overblowing it.

    But I'd like to hear your thoughts.
    •  
      CommentAuthorTF
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2009 edited
     (5587.2)
    Edit because this is apparently a serious discussion.
  2.  (5587.3)
    It seems to me they might be taking this a little bit too seriously and over blowing it.


    I think it is a very valid developmental health concern. Morality and development of ethics is a complex process for the young, and we are only now beginning to ask what changes in the nature of how information is acquired may do in terms of development. Even if the answer is "no, it has no impact" the question is worth posing and worth studying clearly, so we know what we are getting into. I also, perhaps cynically, expect the internet community writ large will react with the normal "you are trying to take our game ball" gruffness rather than considering the issue.

    I also think it is a valid concern on a number of other level too, for adults. Reduction of information and meaning does have an impact, and potentially a distorted impact at that, and I can site to at least N=1 examples where I think the nature of social networks (and twitter in specific) caused serious issues.
  3.  (5587.4)
    Well done lads. Now cure cancer.


    Yeah, that took no time. Those psychologists should get right on cancer research instead of studying how new things that might impact the mental health. It is only ok to question technology we don't like (say weapons) never the toys we use.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2009
     (5587.5)
    To be fair, a lot of people said the same thing with the development of the telegraph, then radio, then television, phones, the internet...
  4.  (5587.6)
    Josh, asking the question in the overblown, exasperated way they are might actually contribute to cause the very scenario they're scared of. They sound more like they're frightened by the future -- information is becoming faster, more detailed and more connected. The question that should be asked is: do we continuously adapt to process that information faster or we slam the brakes a bit? I feel learning to process information faster, to react quicker is part of our natural evolution. They're researching one side of the fence and divulging the results in the typical exaggerated, "society is fucked if you don't listen to us" manner, not to mention treating all human beings as if they're absolutely the same. I, for one, am not feeling my emotions crash on top of one another when reading my Twitter feed, and I can feel compassion just fine.
  5.  (5587.7)
    @Loonynerd

    And we have a a lot of evidence that those technologies did impact how we learn and act, sometimes in good ways sometimes in bad. Most of my studies focused on the written word or fair use,so this is more a what I recall from seminars type thing, but each transition impacted how information is process and how we socialize.

    The potential for negative impacts to be revealed is not a reason to be willfully unaware of the idea. Anymore than it is an idea to do away with the technology. We make trade offs, I simply like the notion of knowing what those trades are and allowing for informed choices on how our toys impact our lives.
  6.  (5587.8)
    It's been in the news a lot this year- how twitter, facebook, the internet, etc. change how our brain wires itself and how we learn.... as to what impact this will have on our long-term life, and functionality along with psychological health? Who knows. But something IS happening. As internet, twitter, facebook and whatnot users, I don't find anything wrong with wanting to know possible negative --or less than generally beneficial-- outcomes may occur from the technology we use so damn frequently.
    This isn't to say that I believe we are doomed; merely that change has occurred/is occurring.... and that we don't really know the results of the changes it's causing to our brains yet.
  7.  (5587.9)
    The question that should be asked is: do we continuously adapt to process that information faster or we slam the brakes a bit? I feel learning to process information faster, to react quicker is part of our natural evolution. They're researching one side of the fence and divulging the results in the typical exaggerated, "society is fucked if you don't listen to us" manner, not to mention treating all human beings as if they're absolutely the same.


    The news story is a pull piece citing to research which appears (on the face) to have used decent methods. You are asking a general question on futurists ethics which is not the field necessarily of the people who engaged the study. You are also, to a degree, mistaking the nature of the scientific method. They are asking what impact does this have on a certain process and showing the results, they did not start with the answer.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2009
     (5587.10)
    I just think immediately assuming that these changes are bad is an awful thing. Do I think all of these studies state that this change is bad? Of course not, that would be a huge fallacy that I don't fancy falling into. But for some reason, the media seems fixated almost solely on the negative impacts of these changes...
    •  
      CommentAuthorvoyou
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2009
     (5587.11)
    There's good reason to be sceptical about that CNN article, which jumps immediately from interesting neurological research to some fairly bullshit alarmism about Twitter without much justification. Figuring out the effects of new communications technologies obviously requries more than just knowledge about the brain, it also requires research into how these communications technologies are used (in other words, you need psychology, media studies and sociology to complement the neurology). I think the USC researchers here are probably aware of this (Damasio, who gets quoted by CNN, has written some really thoughtful stuff about the relationship between neurology and psychology, particularly his book Looking for Spinoza).

    The media's need for some novel "hook" tends to transform reports of scientific research into ungrounded expressions of fear or hope (cf the Daily Mail's attempt to divide the world into substances that cause and substances that cure cancer); in this instance, USC's press department seems to bear some of the blame, too. The research about the various speeds of different emotions sounds fascinating; the immediate application of this research to the effect of twitter on the moral fabric of society is, erm, speculative, to say the least.
  8.  (5587.12)
    @Roo

    Exactly. Asking the question does not mean it is some doom. And liking something does not mean it is free of consequence.
  9.  (5587.13)
    Oh well, yes. I consider the CNN story to be nothing more than a standard piece to grab attention and numbers. I am only discussing the concept of the study and the possible results, inclduing how it relates to technology, CNN's science reporting is ass.
  10.  (5587.14)
    Oh well, yes. I consider the CNN story to be nothing more than a standard piece to grab attention and numbers. I am only discussing the concept of the study and the possible results, inclduing how it relates to technology, CNN's science reporting is ass.


    The idea of researching this is not bad. But I didn't like this specific study, which seems simplistic (something Voyou put better than I possibly could) and the results were divulged far too ominously.
  11.  (5587.15)
    @Andre,

    Actually Voyou did not question the study (at least he does not seem too have, he can correct me if I am misreading this). He simply pointed out the issue is with CNN and the school's press department in terms of any perceived alarm. I would also like to note the research institute is exactly what it is said it should be up-thread - it is a cross-field center for the relationship between social science and technology.
  12.  (5587.16)
    Most likely the restults were akin to something like this:
    Twitter/Facebook/Whatnot use corelates with ____brain activity, neural wiring, whatnot as shown in these PET scans over here, this graph and yadda yadda, compared with non-internet users here, and your average joe, over here.

    Dangers, presumed or otherwise probably weren't in the peer-reviewed article that probably formed the basis of this report.

    Note: I have not read the specific journal article(s) for the study referred to in this report. Has anyone got it on hand?
    •  
      CommentAuthorCharlene
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2009
     (5587.17)
    Have they actually done any research into the way people use twitter or are they just speculating?
  13.  (5587.18)
    He simply pointed out the issue is with CNN and the school's press department in terms of any perceived alarm.


    And that is what is being mainly questioned here. When I say this is being overblown and exaggerated, I don't mean the study itself, which seems valid enough (if a bit one-sided, but I'm no expert in that area by a long shot), but the way they're divulging it.
  14.  (5587.19)
    The research is into the topic of short verse long term exposure to information, and how simple and quick information differs from long exposure to complex in terms of engendering certain emotional responses. An emphasis is placed on emotional development.

    The relation to technology is a jump, but as I see it not an unreasonable one, in terms of finding a common example where such exposure will definitively be short term.
    • CommentAuthorlooneynerd
    • CommentTimeApr 14th 2009
     (5587.20)
    I kind of see Twitter as a reversion to older ways; the short, to the point messages on twitter are kind of similar to very old news paper articles, which had to be short enough to be telegraphed across countries to the paper publishers.