Twitter made my head explode

It's official. Facebook can give you cancer. Prolonged use of the Internet causes autism. ADHD. Heart disease. (And Twitter may make your head explode). Baroness 'Susan' Greenfield's recent comments in the House of Lords have caused no end of consternation. Her controversial claims are about the effect of computers on children's health. Greenfield seems to think that there may be links between autism and the prevalance of 'screen relationships' where kids interact with their peers predominantly online. Her basic premise is that the skills we draw upon when communicating face to face wither and die when we persist in technology mediated communication. She mentions body posture, vocal intonation, and even pheromones. To cap it all, the fragrant baroness suggests that prolonged use of screen technologies might be linked to a rise in ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). She is quoted as saying: "It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations." This she says, will lead to shorted attention spans and increased recklessness.

Other respected psychologists weigh in with similar opinions, including Dr Aric Sigman who suggests in the journal Biologist that 'a lack of face-to-face contact could alter the way genes work, upset immune responses, hormone levels and the function of arteries'. There is even a danger, he says of cancer, strokes, heart disease and dementia. There is no scientific evidence for this he warns, but lack of proof should not stop us from believing there are long term effects to exposure to social networking sites and other internet activity. Just because a women from Cancer Research UK dismisses the claims, doesn't mean we should ignore them. (Here's some video footage of a BBC TV Newsnight programme framing the debate).

After all, these scientists are above reproach and therefore they cannot be wrong, can they? Dr Ben Goldacre of Bad Science thinks they are both wrong. But what does he know? He runs his own blog so he must be biased. Perhaps Facebook does give you cancer! I must admit I am more that a little worried by these reports. For example, I am now worried that my mouse will give me a sexually transmitted disease, or that prolonged use of Twitter will cause my head to explode in a manner reminiscent of the movie 'Scanners'.

Well if all these very respected human scientists are telling us that children's health is at risk because of their use of screen technologies, I suppose we must believe them mustn't we? Eat manure, they tell us. Why? Because fifty billion flies can't be wrong.

(Image source:


Anonymous said…
Steve, you assume readers will follow links. I think the punchline of Ben Goldacre's post is worth copying over and over in every blog post:

" He points out the Dr Sigman quoted a 1998 paper called “The Internet Paradox”. This paper did indeed find a (weak) relationship between internet use and depression, loneliness, etc. This was 1998, at the very dawn of widespread use of the web, but more importantly, the very same authors went back and looked at the very same families, and found that the effect had disappeared. That seems relevant to me, especially if you’re going to quote the 1998 results, Dr Sigman?

You can read the paper in full online as a pdf. It says “This sample generally experienced positive effects of using the Internet on communication, social involvement, and well-being.”

There is no excuse for not knowing about this finding. Type the internet paradox into Google. Go on, do it:"

p.s. Love that picture!
Ed Webb said…
Don't forget that social networks will also make us fear kittens ( and that texting kills people, even when they're not texting ( We're all doomed - doomed, I say!
Frances Bell said…
I do like to play devil's advocate ;-) If there were a hypothesis that use of IT/ICT were to be associated with brain changes (good and bad), wouldn't it be good to formulate the hypothesis and test it? And also to qualitatively study any social changes associated with IT/ICT use? Oh yes, that's what some of us do ;-)

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