Past studies have suggested extensive use of social media leads to a shorter attention span, but recent research suggests this may not be the case.
The new report, published by the International Journal of Social Media and Interactive Learning, found there isn’t any difference in attention spans or sociability between frequent and infrequent users of social media. It also states the ability to manage stress levels when under a time crunch is not affected.
Applied technology professor Des McCarville disagrees. He argues students in his class are unable to concentrate if they’re simultaneously on their phone or social media during a lesson.
“I don’t think you can retrieve it. It (information received while on social media) doesn’t store for long term memory and, let’s face it, they’re playing games,” McCarville said. “You know what I tell my students? If you want to play the game, then go out, play the game.”
Such use of devices “is saying you don’t want to be here,” he added.
Things have changed drastically since McCarville began teaching 15 years ago. He says human beings’ extensive history of using handwriting makes it difficult to learn optimally by simply typing.
“We have 40,000 years of thinking and communicating to our hands, to write something down…it’s only in the last 10 years that we’ve been punching it out on the keyboard,” McCarville said. “So you have 40,000 years of ingrained DNA saying…the best way you can learn is if you actually use your hands.
“Which is what I try to tell the students if they’re saying, ‘oh no, we’re just punching it in on our phone or our laptops,’” he said. “Well, it goes in but it doesn’t stay.”
Harshneet Kaur, like many others in her generation, constantly uses social media. A first year Media Communications student, Kaur has at least four or five social media accounts and says social media can be very distracting when she’s studying.
“Today I was doing an assignment and I got a message on my phone and then on Facebook,” Kaur said. “I started talking to that person and it ended up being a one-hour talk. I could have finished my assignment in that time.”
But Computer Programming professor Scott Fielder sides with the study. He points out that it requires a certain level of concentration to be able to use social media so often.
“I don’t think it screws up our attention span at all,” Fielder said. “I think the proof is if they can sit there and text for eight hours a day. I can’t do anything eight hours a day but I watch your generation sit there and text for eight hours a day solid.
“So I know your minds are powerful,” he said.
Fielder, who also teaches video game programming, says the issue is not so much that people appear to be absent minded, but that they’re often expected to be available on all social media sites at once.
“If my phone went off, I wouldn’t answer it. I would talk to you,” he said. “But your generation would answer the phone and say, ‘Excuse me one moment I have to face-back,’ or ‘I have to text back,” or something and respond to that communication. Because on the other line they sent you a note and you’re meant to answer it and not at your leisure,” he said.
“I think their stress level is getting up because I think they’re trying to multitask more than our brains can handle.”