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Why Social Media and New Media Can Be Mentally Damaging

In a recent discussion with my teacher, Mr. Mark Davis, one of the topics that came up was how we remember things. At one point, the conversation turned to social media and new media, and how new media can be incredibly damaging to our perceptive abilities for one reason: we always assume there’s a replay.

Think about it. Missed a point in that audiobook? No big deal, just shuffle back some. Didn’t see a play in the game? Instant replay will beat it to death for you. Couldn’t go to a conference? It’s on YouTube. Even if you were there, if you weren’t paying attention and were just chatting, the conference DVD or podcast will have what you missed.

The key point is that we become more mentally unfit every time we outsource our ability to perceive and remember. We become so accustomed to being able to download a copy or stream a video that our faculties for capturing a moment in our minds diminish.

Why does this matter? It only matters if you find yourself in situations, in moments in life, when nobody and no device is recording. Chances are you’re not already recording when a child takes a first step or says a parent’s name for the first time. Chances are you’re not already recording when a master teacher demonstrates a technique just once. Chances are you’re not already recording when a singular event happens on the street nearby. Oh, lots of people will likely be able to get various devices up and running quickly, but your mind is the only always-on, always-recording device that’s instantly ready to go – if you train it to be.

Is new media bad? Of course not. But it does have consequences.

How do you counteract the degradation of human faculties in an ever-increasingly wired world? Cultivate them. Give yourself exercises to practice. For example, look at a picture of a crowded street for a few seconds, then try to recall as many things as possible from the scene from memory. Listen to a melody or conversation just once and reproduce what you can. In these ways and many more, you can give your brain the mental fitness it needs to capture the moments of your life as you live them, instead of lamenting a device’s boot up time.

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