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Humans, like many species, are highly social creatures. The process of natural selection has instilled in us a drive to connect with other people. Those ancestors that were well connnected got support from their community and prospered, allowing them to pass on their gregariousness down to their offspring.

Facebook Addiction

With the advent of modern communication technology we’ve developed more and more effective ways to ‘scratch the itch’ to connect with others at greater speeds and distances. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are the latest in the line of personal connectivity technology.

While these services can provide much value by allowing people to link with friends, ideas and events in new ways, they are not without a dark side.  As their popularity has mushroomed, it has become increasingly apparently that these services can be addictive, and this tendency is especially prevalent among youth of today, for whom fitting into the social fabric has always seemed  critically important.

This New York Times article, “Driven to Distraction, Some Teenagers Unfriend Facebook” documents some of the troubles teenagers are having with Facebook addiction, and managing their compulsion to connect with their social network. Psychology Professor  Walter Mischel of Columbia University says:

Facebook is the marshmallow for these teenagers

referring to the treat young kids found irresistible in his now famous series of experiments probing how young children cope with, and often succumb to, temptation.

Professor Mischel  found that kids who could not delay gratification, but instead snatched the marshmallows at the earliest opportunity, turned out to be under-achievers as adults.

So the big question seems to be:

Is the 24/7 connected culture we find ourselves embedded within today serving us, or is it driving us (and our kids) to distraction?

My guess – probably both.

One thing seems clear – Driven by our compulsion to connect, we humans are beginning to serve the global network at least as much as the global network is serving us. It remains to be seen whether the emerging collective intelligence will help steer humanity towards healthy and creative forms of social networking, or undermine the well-being of the very nodes that form it…

Update 2/03/2010: A new study in the Journal Psychopathology found a strong correlation between excessive internet activity (especially at social media sites) and depression. The study authors day:

“Our research indicates that excessive internet use is associated with depression, but what we don’t know is which comes first — are depressed people drawn to the internet or does the internet cause depression?

“What is clear, is that for a small subset of people, excessive use of the internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies.”

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Ever feel like you're part of a big machine?

This blog is an exploration of what being part of a collective might mean for each of us as individuals, and for society.

What is it that is struggling to emerge from the convergence of people and technology?

How can each of us play a role, as a thoughtful cog in the big machine?

Dean Pomerleau
@deanpomerleau

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