If Oxford neuroscientist Baroness Greenfield is to be believed, social networking sites such as Facebook and Bebo are causing long-term health and social problems. According to recent press reports, she believes that they're particularly bad news for young kids whose online experiences "are devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance."
This statement strikes me as absolutely ludicrous. Has it escaped the media boffin's attention that the vast majority of our experiences in life are also devoid of cohesive narrative and long-term significance? We go to the park. We fill out a form. We chat idly with the person opposite us in an office. If I were looking for a cohesive narrative, I'd pop down to Waterstone's. I don't expect to get such an experience from a social network any more than I would from the purchase of a train ticket.
Some of her other observations border on the plain weird.
She's worried, for instance, that social networks make it harder for us to adapt to real-life situations which are supposedly more 'perilous' and involve our sniffing out the pheromones of the people we encounter. I think this is an objection that will soon be overcome by interactive scratch-and-sniff technology. Twitter today, Sniffer tomorrow.
In the future, she argues, we may become alienated from everyday conversation and interaction with other people in much the same way that we've become divorced from the process of butchering meat. Mmm. You frequently hear people say that they regret their lack of involvement with the abbatoir, don't you?
On balance, if I had to put money on the table, I'd say that social networks won't lead to the end of civilisation as we know it. After all, radio didn't. TV didn't. The Internet didn't. Human beings are rather adaptable creatures, by and large. But perhaps this isn't something that's taught in neuroscience classes.