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Social networking sites are making it hard for people to think for themselves
Check you understand this vocabulary before you read and listen to the article:
erode (v): to eat into or away; destroy by slow consumption or disintegration
smart (adj): astute, as in business; clever or bright
merely (adv): only as specified and nothing more; simply
trick question (n): a question that is difficult to answer as there is a hidden difficulty or an answer that seems obvious but is is not the right one
rush (v): to move, act, or progress with speed
to fall into a trap (idiom): to do something which is not wise although it seemed to be a good idea when you decided to do it
unwilling (adj): not willing, reluctant to do something
lazy (adj): Averse or disinclined to work, activity, or exertion
glean (v): To learn, discover, or find out, usually little by little or slowly
advice (n): An opinion or recommendation offered as a guide to action, conduct, etc
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They have become a quick and easy way of learning about everything from world affairs to the affairs of friends. But Twitter and Facebook may be eroding our ability to think.
Researchers believe speed, volume and ease with which information is shared through social networking sites may be making it more difficult for us to think analytically.
The warning comes from Dr Rahwan, who said that while the popular sites may appear to be making us smarter, any improvement in intelligence is merely superficial.
The computing expert studied how being part of a network of people affects how we learn. Dr Rahwan began by asking a group of 20 people three trick questions over and over again.
For example they were told that a bat and ball cost £1.10 in total and that the bat cost £1 more than the ball, and then they were asked to work out how much the ball cost.
The intuitive answer is 10p but the correct answer is actually 5p.
Dr Rahwan then gave the same questions to a second group of people. They first answered the questions alone but then were put in groups and able to see each other’s responses.
Given the first question, the men and women quickly realised when someone else in their social network had the right answer and changed theirs accordingly. However, they did no better initially on the second question, or the third.
This surprised Dr Rahwan, who said it suggests that the volunteers were copying the answers without putting any real thought into what they were doing.
By not computing that they shouldn’t rush in with their first answer but take time to think the question over, they fell into the same trap each time.
Dr Rahwan said, ’We think people are unwilling to reflect more because it takes time and effort and in daily life we don’t have the luxury of time to verify everything.’
He said that while we have long learned from others, there is a danger that the rise of information-sharing websites such as Twitter and Facebook will make us rely more and more on the opinion of others.
This could erode our ability to think critically and make us lazy because we assume that there will always be someone else who knows the answer. And while much of the information we glean will be helpful, there is a chance we will believe dangerous advice.
Something to chat about
- In your opinion, what are the benefits of Twitter?
- What makes Twitter different to other forms of social media?
- How has twitter changed the world of journalism?
- How would you convince a Twitter sceptic to start using it?
- Argue against the point made in the article