Is Twitter a threat to morality and ethics?

Texting Are Twitter and other rapid-fire forms of media eating away at our moral and ethical cores?

Possibly, say the authors of a new study from a University of Southern California neuroscience group led by Antonio Damasio, director of USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute. (Via EurekAlert.)

In the study (being published next week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Online Early Edition), the researchers used real-life stories to induce admiration for virtue or skill, or compassion for physical or social pain, in 13 volunteers (verifying the emotions through pre- and post-imaging interviews).

They found, using brain imaging, that while humans can respond in fractions of seconds to signs of physical pain in others, awakening admiration and compassion take much longer: six to eight seconds to fully respond to the stories of virtue or social pain, in the case of the study.

So, what does that say about the emotional cost of relying on a rapid stream of short news bits pouring into the brain through online feeds or Twitter?

Lead author Mary Helen Immordino-Yang puts it this way:

“If things are happening too fast, you may not ever fully experience emotions about other people’s psychological states and that would have implications for your morality,” Immordino- Yang said.

She worries that

fast-paced digital media tools may direct some heavy users away from traditional avenues for learning about humanity, such as engagement with literature or face-to-face social interactions.

Immordino-Yang did not blame digital media. “It’s not about what tools you have, it’s about how you use those tools,” she said.

(USC media scholar Manuel) Castells said he was less concerned about online social spaces, some of which can provide opportunities for reflection, than about “fast-moving television or virtual games.”

“In a media culture in which violence and suffering becomes an endless show, be it in fiction or in infotainment, indifference to the vision of human suffering gradually sets in,” he said.

Damasio agreed: “What I’m more worried about is what is happening in the (abrupt) juxtapositions that you find, for example, in the news.

“When it comes to emotion, because these systems are inherently slow, perhaps all we can say is, not so fast.”

How do you feel about that?

Take your time.

(Image: Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]Twitter,social media, computers, communication, ethics, morality[/tags]

3 thoughts on “Is Twitter a threat to morality and ethics?”

  1. May I suggest that all advances in communications technology represent both threats and opportunities in regard to human morality and ethics? Examples would include, but not be limited to, the developments of: (1) spoken language; (2) written language; (3) paper, ink, and pencils; (4) printing and movable-type; (5) photography; (6) the telegraph; (7) the telephone; (8) radio communications; (9) motion pictures; (10) television; (11) the photocopy machine; (12) videotape; (13) the internet, weblogs, and email; (14) digital cameras; (15) texting/instant messaging; (16) Twitter; and even (17) electronic ink (e.g., Amazon’s Kindle), among others.

  2. Which morality coming from which world view? Which school of ethics is being effected and how? And Yang is wrong. The speed with which things happen has nothing to do with it. The brain takes in hundreds of thousands of bits of information a second– few things are quicker than the human brian. Indifference to human suffering isn’t spawned by Twitter, it is spawned by Dark Ages and we are in one and have been in one since September 1939 and that was a long freaking time ago. Things may not be moving that fast after all, unless you tell time by how fast your PCU works which is asinine. It’s not about tools or how you use them, it’s about your perspective and how you allow it to use you.

  3. I’m 65 and, since I was old enough to understand what adults were saying, I have heard almost infinite variations on the theme of “mankind is going to hell”.

    In spite of the “scientific” background of the people quoted, this is just one more variation. For me, the first time I remember hearing this, the cause was comics – I was about 8. Boy, my brain has been fried for a long time.

    It’s just tiresome.

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