Social media and the creative brain

This is what I recently got from a friend:

„How does the usage of social media affect the communication, interactive & creative part of the human brain?“

Here’s my response:

These are several questions, so let’s separate them. How does the usage of social media affect communication? Well, if we use it as an addition to our other communication processes, it will only export some habits to the communication channels already in use. Some people would in face-to-face conversation say „lol“ instead of actually laughing when the first online chats were around and today sometimes people say „I like“ or quote memes which go viral over the paths of social media.

Once we almost exclusively use a certain channel, the limitations or the shape of that medium starts influencing the way we communicate, for reasons of comfort and efficiency. So we write differently (avoiding those extremely hard to create capital letters, use abbreviations) and thereby develop a kind of online slang. Other than in real life, on social media platforms people seem to be available almost all of the time. People prefer writing a message to making a call because it is less invasive – it allows for the receiver to decide when they respond (while deviations from your average response time can become part of the signal and of the interpretation).

We can organize as groups and have several discussions pending at the same time. Along with it comes an unlimited stream of information about your „friends“, which takes away the sensation of solitude while binding you to a device and cutting you off from face to face conversation. I think that the way social networks kick our needs for social interaction and being part of the news stream will turn out to work a bit like porn. It is available at any time and needs literally no effort while keeping you in a safe place. Turns out that a high porn consumption leads to decreased brain substance in areas associated with motivation. And I would take a bet that people who do not expand their social life with media but replace face-to-face conversation with social media usage – that these people would show the same decrease in motivation(al substance). The way we talk, write and think will also be influenced in proportion to the time we spend in these virtual places – like all media do.

Here is the second part of the question:

„How does the usage of social media affect the interactive and creative part of the human brain?“

Now, all parts of the brain are interactive – they all respond to signals from other parts of the brain and directly or indirectly to those from sensory organs. Depending on where the signal came from the pathway is called an association, if the source was in the same brain hemisphere, a commissure, if it is in the other hemisphere or a projection if it comes from or leaves towards the periphery/the body. so all parts of the brain are interactive and there are no brain parts exclusively for interacting with other people. Human interaction is so complex, it needs a lot of highly integrated processes and therefore practically the entire brain. (That is one reason why social interaction is the number one therapy for dementia or mental decay).

On the other hand, there is no single part of the brain that executes creativity. Creativity is the process of connecting concepts. If you connect concepts for the first time, you are having an idea; if you are the first person to connect those concepts, you have made an invention. People who are highly original, meaning they combine concepts that are from very different domains, activate brain regions associated with very different functions simultaneously. The flow-experiments of Charles Limb revealed a lot of this.

If you want to be creative, create. Create a lot. Make it a habit. You will produce more and more and being creative will become part of your personality. If you want to be original, make your information diet as diverse and rich as possible. Find new things and learn about things you just found out existed. Try them, do them. Whether you get the virtual part of your information diet from a timeline or by strolling the net makes no difference. Social media will only limit your creativity and originality if you cut away real life experience time for it too much.