Discussing the latest tweak to a social networking service’s algorithm last night — yes, my life is exactly as sad and empty as even a cursory examination of my work would reveal — I compared Facebook to the coffee table on which people placed their unread copies of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, i.e. a space in which to display aspirational identity (although given what some of you share on Facebook I might suggest that you aspire to something even slightly greater) with minimal effort. In the cold light of day I wondered if I hadn’t been a bit too harsh in my judgement of those who are trying to craft an image without doing much in the way of actual immersion in that which they are sharing, but along comes Science to confirm my prejudices:
An international team of human development researchers at Cornell University and Beijing University set out to investigate the cognitive effects of sharing information on social platforms. What they found was retweeting, or “re-blogging,” directly interfered with people’s learning capabilities and retention rates…. According to the study’s finding, the participants who were allowed to retweet their favorite messages submitted twice as many incorrect answers on the comprehension test than their peers in the control group. And the material they did remember indicated a poor understanding of the subject matter. “For things that they reposted, they remembered especially worse,” Wang added. What the researchers suspect is the decision to share or not to share consumes a person’s cognitive resources, which they referred to as “cognitive overload.”
The more that I think about this, the more that the only logical conclusion here is you are better off not even reading what you are going to share on social media since you won’t really understand it anyway. Once the robots are writing everything we see on the web all we’ll need to do is like and share and we can save our limited cognitive energies for important things, like running from fires and hiding from the other robots who are trying to eat us. It’s almost as if this were the plan all along!