Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Social Media–What Are You Feeding Your Brain?

People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die. - Plato

Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality. - Earl Nightingale

My semi-regular hiatus from social media is winding down although this time, instead of just taking time away from it to recharge, I took more time to analyze how I use it.

Or rather … how I allow it to use me.

Earl Nightingale’s quote, which he noted many decades ago, rings just as true today as it did when he said it and in the spirit of his wisdom, I analyzed the flow of information that comes into my brain via social media.

The input that my brain receives from social media breaks down as follows:

  • Invitations to play online games – 5%
  • Libellous, slanderous, crude or meaningless comments about anyone in particular – 4%
  • Viruses from very smart people who still haven’t learned that you don’t click on everything someone sends you – 1%
  • Promotion of causes that mean nothing to me with the sender not even caring if the article falls into my personal or professional interests (I happen to like seal meat, thank you) – 10%
  • Emotion-laden, fact-less rants presented as fact (including political spin) – 10%
  • Self-promotion, where the sender didn’t even bother to check my demographic (no thanks, I don’t need to participate in a new tampon evaluation program but thanks for the offer) – 10%
  • Get rick quick schemes – 5%
  • News that I’ve already seen – 10%
  • News that I couldn’t care less about – 10%
  • Updates about family reunions, cats and other stuff from people I’ve never met – 5%
  • Feel good stories that for the most part are untrue and unverified but get people all angry or misty-eyed anyway and thus they share without verifying – 5%
  • Baiting for emotion-filled argument and not fact-focused, cerebral exchange  – 5%
  • Content that improves me, nurtures me, helps me to grow, helps me to learn, informs me or calls me to action – 20%

Vilfredo Pareto wins again, with only 20% of the input into my brain from social media being of any real, measurable value.

I was intrigued with this and given that thousands of updates flow in my direction daily, the data amplifies the impact of Mr. Nightingale’s previously noted statement and makes me wonder this:

If it’s true that we are the company that we keep, is it also true that we become the information that we keep?

And of equal importance …..

Are we truly aware of how we are measured by the information that we share?

What enters my brain gets processed subconsciously and if I share it, I magnify how much total brain power is subconsciously digesting something that doesn’t need to be digested.  That seems pretty fair to me – if I’m going to waste my day, I might as well invite others to waste theirs also.

This brings another important idea to the fore.

What enters my brain is not the responsibility of those who pushed the information in its direction.

It is the responsibility of the person who owns the brain and who allows the information in.

Why This Matters

This matters for a variety of reasons but for the sake of brevity, I will discuss four.

Mental Well-Being

It has been suggested that excessive social media interaction creates the possibility of creating or enhancing depression in people as noted here.  This opens the possibility that more people will find themselves on mental health medication than is probably truly needed.  It also highlights the fact that social media, in promoting social interaction, may actually ultimately decrease it, making the user anti-social instead.

Being of Value as Perceived By the World

In addition, in a world where accurate information and useful, applicable knowledge are becoming the currency and commodity of the world, having a brain that contains mostly “the valuable stuff” will serve one much better than being filled with the mundane or the useless or being flat-lined altogether.

Security / Confidentiality

From a security perspective, if you have apps like the Facebook app on your smartphone and you text something of a sensitive, confidential nature to a colleague (or vice versa), you have just breached confidentiality with your colleague or potentially a nondisclosure agreement as Facebook now harvests all inbound and outbound SMS messages from your phone.

Heightened Sensitivity Over the Stupid

Many people tell stories of receiving hate messages from people who have been unfriended / unfollowed as if to suggest that once connected, the relationship becomes a permanent one governed by the laws of Church and State that “no man can put asunder”.  To avoid this, many people hesitate to unfriend people in order to avoid the backlash and in doing so, allow themselves to remain subjected to the type of information diarrhea that confirms that they should have disconnected from them in the first place.

The Source of the Information Also Matters

Recently, my sense of ethics was publicly condemned by a couple who felt quite empowered and informed to make judgements of me and others.  Subsequently I found out that the couple who were experts in ethics and the evaluation of human character had the following attributes themselves:

  • she was a former prostitute who has participated in welfare fraud
  • he has served time in a federal penitentiary for armed robbery
  • both currently partake in “illegal substances”
  • he is an installer for a local cable company and keeps all the customers WiFi router passwords so that he can use them for “personal business” as he drives around town.  I wonder if he uses them for “untraceable” arrangements for the previous point (pure conjecture but why else keep a list of other people’s passwords).

There was a lot more to their background but the point is this.  The source and motivation of the owner of opinion or information plays a significant role as to whether the receiver should give any time, merit or credence to the information received. 

I suspect that for many people on social media, such filters are woefully inadequate.  A sense of information discrimination and discernment matters and as the ability to use our brains becomes more important than ever, I wonder if the average person’s brain will be so full (or so swayed by the opinions of others) that they won’t be able to use it effectively when called upon.

But Thankfully There is Good News

With the US’s seemingly contradictory position on encouraging people to quit smoking while at the same time working hard to allow the open smoking of marijuana, it appears that health concerns over inhaling anything matter less than numbing people out altogether.

So between that intention and the overload that comes from social media, one has to consider this potential inevitability:

A numbed-out, dumbed-down, overloaded brain is a docile brain, a brain that questions little, accomplishes little, desires little of value, thinks little, spends a lot and which is easily led (or misled).

It reminds me of what a friend of mine and former government worker from the former Soviet Union once told me:

Cheap vodka (and lots of it) kept the people from asking too many questions.  We didn’t care about what it did to the individual or to the economy since we were separated from the rest of the people anyway.


The good news is that wasted brains are very useful

The bad news is that they are not very useful to the people who own them.

Knowing who would find a wasted brain to be useful might disturb you unless you’re already so far gone that it doesn’t matter anymore.

Do you know who / what feeds your brain?

Do you care?

What are you doing about it?

Now if you will excuse me, I have a story to post about how a homeless gay man, bullied as a child and paralyzed in Iraq while fending off 200 terrorists, parachuted into North Korea, rescued an abandoned cat and delivered it to a child dying from an unknown disease who has 50 million likes on Facebook.  Oh … and he is offering $10 million to anyone who shares his story on Twitter.  The word on the street is that they are trying to line him up for a public appearance at the next State of the Union Address and that he has his own reality show coming up soon.  Now that’s an update worth sharing, liking and getting preoccupied about.

In service and servanthood,



I remember musing on a similar theme years ago when I wrote Everyone is talking - is anyone listening?.

In addition, I am reminded of this delightful picture from the great folks at (deliciously ironic to include on my blog). :-)


Finally, I received a note from a colleague who was quick to point out that during my hiatus, my Klout score fell from a 68 to a 65.  My reply to him was simple:

What’s more important – peace of mind for a bit or insisting on pushing my mind onto others for the hell of it or for the sake of maintaining some artificially generated score in order to impress the easily impressed?

So far I have not received a reply. :-)

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