GUEST COLUMN | by Rob James
Love it or hate it, social media has become part of most people’s everyday lives, whether that means checking Facebook, using Twitter, or engaging in blogs, Pinterest walls, and other networks. Smartphone Internet speeds have made it even easier to access social networks on the go and in work and school. In this way, there’s a lot of potential for distraction and low productivity, as well as the danger of new generations being unable to maintain concentration. However, there are also some excellent benefits to social media, from the way in which it trains our minds, through to the ways it can be used as a tool for work and education.
Too Much of a Distraction?
Almost continuous access to social media sites means that it’s difficult to switch yourself off from some form of social networking, although it’s fair to say that many people do manage it. Children who take social networks for granted may experience reduced attention spans as the result of distractions and the addictive qualities of Facebook, far and above the problem of television. The ability of social media to distract you at all times of the day can similarly result in a lack of sleep, and the need to check networks during the day at work and school.
Productivity levels in workplaces and schools face dips when people become distracted by their social networks. The problem becomes worse when a quick check of messages can expand into a lunch hour, or something that you have to reply to while working on other things. Other social network sites like Twitter also pose the challenge of not becoming drawn into long running discussions, or absorbed for an hour by opening links. With it being so easy to access these sites, it’s easy for social networks to swallow up large parts of a working day and study time.
Social Media Benefits
It is possible, though, to make a defense of social media. Some studies suggest that using social networks can benefit the brain’s ability to forge social relationships and boost interaction, as well as empathy levels. However, this has to be achieved in moderation, rather than being something that is taken to an extreme, where people become isolated from actual social interactions. Making social networking and media more a part of working life also has the potential to boost productivity, rather than take away from it. Business pages, monitoring Twitter feeds, and using social media to market a company can be invaluable in some situations, as can the use of networks like LinkedIn to extend professional networks.
At the same time, encouraging a more proactive use of social media in the classroom from a young age, and in a moderate fashion, can help students to understand how best to communicate and aid their learning. Communicating through social networks can be a way to build group collaboration skills, while building interactions with other students around the world. Blogs, Twitter feeds, and other social network pages can be tied here into class projects. Again, though, the emphasis should be on teaching the practical uses of social media, and its cultural significance, rather than just demonising it as a distracting source of pleasure.
Rob James is secondary school teacher and a technophile. He recommends dcl 4G business mobiles for business communication needs. Rob likes to blog about the different aspects of inspiring young minds and includes technology in his lessons as much as possible.