Social media networks are weapons of mass distraction. Each day we are inundated with a flood of information from social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Even if you didn’t have to work, eat or sleep, you wouldn’t be able to get through all the information being shared by your friends and colleagues on blogs and social networks.
The problem we face is that much of this information grabs our attention and seems very interesting at first glance. At the same time, much of the information is also unimportant, disposable and it distracts us from more meaningful pursuits. To make matters worse, when we spend a lot of time consuming information from our social media streams, we have tendency to forget what we have consumed anyway.
The name for this tendency to forget is the Google Effect. In a nutshell, researchers have found that we have a tendency to forget information that can be easily found using Internet search engines like Google. However, it is Facebook where people spend the most time and the world’s largest social network is pouring money into improving their Social Graph Search, so you will spend more time seeking information through your friends and connections.
Soon, we might be calling this the Facebook Effect instead. Facebook consumes an astounding of 83 percent of total time spent on social networks, 25% of total time spent in mobile apps and the typical Internet users spend much more time on Facebook than Google (almost 3x as much).
How Social Media Overload Affects Your Brain:
A new study from Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology has found that too much social media exposure actually reduces your capacity to process information and depletes your short-term working memory. Our working memory plays a critical role in our ability to filter information and remember what is valuable but it is also a limited resource.
Erik Fransén, a Professor in Computer Science at KTH and the leader of this new study on social media overload, explains in detail:
“At any given time, the working memory can carry up to three or four items. When we attempt to stuff more information in the working memory, our capacity for processing information begins to fail.
When you are on Facebook, you are making it harder to keep the things that are ‘online’ in your brain that you need. In fact, when you try to process sensory information like speech or video, you are going to need partly the same system of working memory, so you are reducing your own working memory capacity.
And when you try to store many things in your working memory, you get less good at processing information.”
Ultimately, the brain is designed for periods of both activity and relaxation. It is the periods of relaxation and downtime — preferably disconnected from the distractions of your computer or smartphone — that are needed for memory consolidation and transferring important information to your long-term memory.
So, how can you take your brain offline? I recommend taking regular 5-minute breaks every hour to relax and temporarily reduce your exposure to new information. You can do a quick meditation, go for a short walk or spend a few minutes listening to music. This will help you improve your capacity to process information and increase your productivity.