Social media and self-control: The vices and virtues of attention

In C. G. Prado (ed.), Social Media and Your Brain: Web-Based Communication Is Changing How We Think and Express Ourselves. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger. pp. 57-74 (2017)
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Self-control, the capacity to resist temptations and pursue longer-term goals over immediate gratifications, is crucial in determining the overall shape of our lives, and thereby in our ability to shape our identities. As it turns out, this capacity is intimately linked with our ability to control the direction of our attention. This raises the worry that perhaps social media are making us more easily distracted people, and therefore less able to exercise self-control. Is this so? And is it necessarily a bad thing? This paper analyzes the nature of attention, its vices and virtues, and what currently available evidence has to say about the effects of social media on attention and self-control. The pattern that seems to be emerging is that, although there is an association between higher use of social media and lower attentional control, we do not yet know whether it is social media use that makes people more distracted, or whether those who use social media the most do so because they are more easily distracted. Either way, the rise of the ‘Web 2.0’ does raise questions about whether the virtues of attention will change in the future, and whether this will bring with it a transformation in the way we shape our selves.
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