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Slaves to stimuli - how we lose our way on social media

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Berlin - Neuroscientist Lutz Jäncke is certain that at some point people will choose to dump social media altogether because our brains were created for a world that requires physical contact with others. A conversation about the ocean of information we're drowning in, the internet's dark side and human self-control.

Berliner Zeitung: Mr Jäncke, according to some estimates, the average person will spend five years and four months on social media over their lifetime. A survey found that 12-17 year olds use Whatsapp, Snapchat and the like for almost three hours a day. We hover between an online and offline life. Are human beings made for this kind of world?

Lutz Jäncke: No. Of this I am firmly convinced. Until about 10,000 years ago, Homo sapiens, or humans, lived in small groups and wandered the world together. We have always been social beings, but we were and still are in constant competition with other humans. We are selfish, strive for power and defend our territory to the death if necessary. Man's greatest enemy is man himself. So, in a way, we had to learn to bond. And that is a very fragile undertaking, even today. We have to give and take again and again and build trust painstakingly and slowly over time. That requires the full commitment of the body. Our brains are made for a world that requires the physical contact of fellow human beings. We are specialised for that kind of coexistence.

Nowadays, the full use of the body is no longer necessary because so much contact takes place online. What does that do to people's social behaviour?

Cognitive neuroscience has taught us that when we interact with other people, we use a special skill called the "theory of mind". When we communicate with each other, our brain generates a theory about the behaviour, thoughts and emotions of our counterpart - in dialogue with the social partner. We adapt our behaviour to his or her gestures and facial expressions. This is completely absent in the incognito world in which we live today.

Lutz Jäncke is a professor of neuropsychology at the University of Zurich. Jäncke is primarily concerned with the functional plasticity of the human brain.

The neuroscientist has published over 400 scientific papers and has written several books. In May, his non-fiction book Von der Steinzeit ins Internet - Der analoge Mensch in der digitalen Welt (From the Stone Age to the Internet - Analogue man in the digital world) will be published, in which he describes the possible future of humans in the course of digitalisation.

What are the consequences?

We don't see our fellow human beings behind the screens and therefore no longer reflect on our own behaviour. We "bang" our thoughts into the keys without really thinking about it. We insult people without knowing them and even........

© Berliner Zeitung

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