What is social media doing to our hearts, minds and imaginations?

What is social media doing to our Hearts Minds Imaginations


A few years back, I picked up a book called In the Shallows. I had read Nicholas Carr’s article Is Google Making Us Stupid?, and the author’s concerns mirrored my own. Was I losing my attention span? Was I finding it hard to consume information unless it was cut up into bite sized pieces? Was I craving validation through social media? Was I becoming a slave to the little device with the blinking light?

To be very clear, I love the internet and I think it’s more positive than negative. I also think that it needs to be managed carefully. I think it’s something we need to think about, talk to our kids about and I know I need to be more mindful of my use.  Here are some of my concerns and observations about the way social media and the broader internet is changing our hearts, minds and imaginations.

Social Media & Our Minds

In his book, Nicholas Carr, refers to the work of neuroscientists. Apparently, our brains have more plasticity than originally thought. It is possible, through consistent effort, to change neural connections. This can be a positive –  people who have suffered brain injuries can use other areas of the brain to compensate. And it can be negative – the neural changes that occur in drug addicts. In the case of social media and the internet in general we are re-educating our minds how to consume and deliver information. I enjoy reading novels, so I still feel comfortable reading large amounts of fiction, but I struggle reading pages of non-fiction. I doubt I could read text books as effectively as I could during my university years. I find it difficult to pen a long letter. Some of these things are no doubt due to lack of practice. But I do believe constantly consuming and delivering short burst of information has led my brain to prefer small doses. Then there is the frequency of information – I may be consuming information in shorter, sharper bursts but it’s coming at me in pounding waves. No wonder our minds have had to change to cope.

Even the way we read is different. When we read information on line, we do not read left to right. We scan, try to find the pertinent information and skip over words – after all our time is much too precious to stay too long on one site (present company excluded?).  This article talks about the way we read online.

So what to do about it? Personally, I will continue to read fiction – although my attention span is obviously an issue, as I like to have two or three books on the go at once. I will try to read more non-fiction and educated myself on topics in some depth (with books!) – rather than relying on bites. I think this sets a good example for my boys and could also be a family project.

Social Media & Our Hearts

I have a number of friends who are passionate about being vulnerable online. They think we need to halt the highlight reel culture and start being real with one another. I have always been a bit skeptical about this approach. I would prefer people be authentic online, but it seems naive to think people are going to post the bad or even mundane stuff as readily as the awesome stuff. And I also think we all understand that.

But then I was talking with a friend about fear of flying and I started to change my mind. People who are afraid of flying are very aware of the statistics that tell them it’s the safest way to travel. But that knowledge is not enough to barricade their fears when they hear about the latest aircraft tragedy. If the news was your only source of information, you could be forgiven for thinking that airplanes are crashing with worrying regularity. In the same way, even though I know that people are only showing the tip of the iceberg on social media, constantly seeing envy-inducing posts eventually induces envy. What I know on an intellectual level doesn’t always translate to the way I feel.

So what to do about it?  If looking through social media isn’t making me feel good – then I will step away from it. I will keep the highlight reel in mind, but I will also exercise some self-care and realise when enough is enough.

Arrow 2

Social Media & Our Imaginations

When my son wants to make something, the first place we go is Pinterest. We copy someone else’s creation (who has no doubt copied someone else’s creation) and end up with something quite lovely that inevitably gets instagrammed. But have we used our imaginations? I remember when I was a kid, I would create all sorts of crazy things – not terribly pretty things – but my imagination ran wild. If your kids are into Lego, you will know the difference between the carefully constructed sets of today and the haphazard creations of eighties and nineties youth. I wonder if social media, and the internet in general, is stopping us from crazy creations that have no pinnable value but that give us creative and imaginative freedom. I really don’t want to rob my children of that joy.

I remember being bored as a kid. My mum would tell me “only boring people get bored”.  Now it seems “only people without smart phones get bored”. I think we need space for boredom. I think there is magic there. The place where imagination can blossom.

So what to do about it? Next time we want to get crafty, I am going to leave Pinterest alone and we will use our imaginations, unassisted by technology.  It might end up a total mess but the goal will be to have fun, not to post a pretty picture at the end of it. And the next time I feel a twinge of boredom, I am going to use it to think, rather than to check my phone.

What do you think? Have social media and the broader internet had an impact on your heart, mind and imagination? Are you worried about it? Have you read In The Shallows?


19 thoughts on “What is social media doing to our hearts, minds and imaginations?

  1. Sandra Kelly says:

    “I think we need space for boredom. I think there is magic there. The place where imagination can blossom.” Love this Robyna! Not enough staring into space and too much staring at screens I think… but, having said that, we are in a fast changing digital world and we have to accept that our kids especially need to be part of this age… like everything, juggling the balance and keeping perspective is key. 🙂

    • Robyna says:

      I do worry about that – how my kids are going to grow up constantly surrounded by technology – but I am sure each generation worries about their kids. Perspective and balance are definitely key.

  2. Emily says:

    Robyna, this is a really interesting post, and an important topic.One of the things I have been thinking about is in relation to creativity and instagram. I am on a kind of “be more creative path” and whilst sharing via instagram has been confidence building and great for “meeting” creative people, I have wondered about whether it changes what I do if I know I’m going to be putting it out there into cyberspace. As a result I’ve decided that some of what I do needs to be for my eyes only, to stop be being too habitual about posting every little creative thing I do! Also the overload of incoming inspiration can sometimes be just too much, so important to be able to switch off sometimes. Emily 🙂

    • Robyna says:

      I think it’s important to consider how sharing creative things shapes the process – and whether it’s positive or negative. Sometimes I think I need stillness and nothingness for inspiration. It’s all balance I guess. Selfishly, I do love seeing your creative beautiful things on Instagram.

  3. cat@thatbettiething says:

    Well I can honestly say I don’t scan your posts Robyna!! Im always worried I’ll miss something. But I agree, we do rely on the Internet a lot. My 7 year old is doing an independent study and when I asked him where he was going to get his information from he said ” ‘puter “. We had to have a chat about other sources as he had no idea there were other options. Humf.

    • Robyna says:

      You are so kind 🙂 My six year old would similarly not think to look outside of the computer (or phone) for answers. It must be strange to grow up, assuming all that knowledge at your finger tips.

  4. youhadusathello says:

    Such a relevant topic Robyna. I worry how far technology will be when my kids are my age! Will their future children have room for imagination or will everything be served on a platter before them? Scary thought!! I find social media distracting and addictive. I think it won’t be long til we will be encouraged to put it away – a strong message/action like slip slop slap. Time to look at each other and talk?!! Of all things. Haha!

    • Robyna says:

      I think you are right – I think there will be a pull-back from the relentlessness of it all. It would be horrible if we all forgot how to have proper conversations.

  5. Caroline says:

    Such great points here. I find it fascinating what it is doing to us – some good and some bad. I am in the same camp as you with having 2-3 books on the go at once but I couldn’t survive without my fiction books. Such a great way to disconnect from the world at the end of the day.

    • Robyna says:

      I don’t know how people can live without books! It’s a sanity touch point for me. And a good break from all the digital. I don’t think I will ever go down the e-reader path, despite being a tech fan.

  6. Christine says:

    Yes! I find that I waste so much time in the internet vortex doing absolutely nothing. I yearn for the days before the internet in a lot of ways. It was so much simpler and time seemed to be spent more valuably with real interactions. I’m going to log off shortly and go read a good book 🙂

  7. Maxabella says:

    I agree that the internet doesn’t allow us to be resourceful nor cure our own boredom – two very, very important things for kids to learn! I’m still not sure what I think about ‘authenticity’ online. I just don’t know that we’ll ever achieve true authenticity. I see the internet as one giant social occasions where everyone has their best face on. I wouldn’t expect someone on the internet to open up their most vulnerable self any more than I would expect it from a party-goer. It only bugs the bejeezus out of me when people lie, rather than contain. There are a lot of out and out lies being told on social media and without the body language cues, it’s impossible to really know by whom and when. x

    • Robyna says:

      And DANGEROUS lies at that. I applaud those that are warts and all on social media, but I don’t know that I would be comfortable with it and I don’t think it’s the norm (or ever will be). One of the reasons I like blogs so much is that they provide a more well rounded perspective.

  8. kazatmeltingmoments says:

    Such a thought provoking post. I am an endless scroller of social media and I am finding it less and less fun and more habit. This has given me some food for thought.

    • Robyna says:

      It’s like that quip about the fridge – there’s never anything new in there, but I keep checking it anyway. I am trying to be more disciplined.

  9. Rachel says:

    I think these are really important ideas to consider. I still read fiction, but certainly a whole lot less of it since the little screen comes with me everywhere these days. I like that so many people can find a voice through the internet and social media, but I worry I am losing things in the shift. I want to check out the book you mentioned. My brain could use some prolonged thought about a single idea.

    • Robyna says:

      It is a balance isn’t it? It’s a great book – quite thought provoking and a bit ahead of its time – it was published a few years ago.

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