Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Your Brain on Facebook

Or should I say the "Shadow of the Person, or Self, or Substance" on Facebook. I can see your quizzical look already. Let me explain...

There was a study by researchers at Cornell concerning the effects of Facebook on your brain. Students were placed in 1 of the following 3 situations:

A) 3 minutes in front of a blank computer screen (the control)
B) 3 minutes in front of a blank computer screen with a mirror nearby
C) 3 minutes browsing their Facebook profile.

Following this each student was given a questionnaire to gauge their self-esteem. Groups A and B saw no effect. Group C saw a positive spike in the self-esteem of participants.
"Unlike a mirror, which reminds us of who we really are and may have a negative effect on self-esteem if that image does not match with our ideal, Facebook can show a positive version of ourselves. We're not saying that it's a deceptive version of self, but it's a positive one." (Cornell Chronicle)
You might have expected these results, but is a self-created positive version of self really not a deceptive version of self? Some of those terms would have to be qualified for me to agree with that statement. But I digress.

Now, what am I getting at with this business about Facebook being a "Shadow of the Person, or Self, or Substance"?

Well, I recently read a children's story.

But this is not just any children's story, this is magical realism at it's best. A masterpiece by Salman Rushdie called Haroun and the Sea of Stories. And Salman knows as well as anyone that a children's story can contain powerful ideas - there have been attempts to take his life because of ideas in another of his children's books.

In one particular scene of Haroun, a central character named Rashid comes across an individual known as a Chupwala. Chupwalas are a society that live in darkness and are accused of committing a great wrong; polluting the Well-Spring that refreshes the waters of the Sea of Stories.

Also, you should know Chupwalas have taken an oath with their Cultmaster leader to never speak. So Rashid is translating an ancient form of sign language spoken by both the Chupwala and the Chupwalas shadow. Yes, the shadow speaks as its own entity. As you will see, in this land of darkness the shadows of a Chupwala can act independently of the Chupwalas themselves.
Now it was the Shadow's turn to 'speak'. 'You must understand that in the Land of Chup, Shadows are considered the equals of the people to whom they are joined,' it began (with Rashid translating again). 'Chupwalas live in the dark, you know, and in the dark a Shadow doesn't have to be one single shape all the time. Some Shadows - such as my good-self - learn how to change ourselves, simply by wishing to do so. Imagine the advantages! If a Shadow doesn't care for the clothes sense or hairstyle of the person whom it's attached, it can simply choose a style for itself. A Chupwala's Shadow can begraceful as a dancer even if its owner is clumsy as an oaf. You comprehend? What's more: in the Land of Chup, a Shadow very often has a stronger personality than the Person, or Self, or Substance to whom or to which it is join! So often the Shadow leads, and it is the Person or Self or Substance that follows. And of course there can be quarrels between the Shadow and the Substance or Self or Person; they can pull in opposite directions - how often have I witnessed that! - but just as often there is a true partnership, and mutual respect. - Pg 132 Haroun and the Sea of Stories
As I will discuss further in a future post, the Chupwala's live in darkness as the result of a machine simply known as P2C2E (Process Too Complicated To Explain).

Even though this book was written 21 years ago, it would seem the P2C2E is a fairly accurate analogy to our digital existence which allows our shadows to exist independently of our self.

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