There is no doubt that social media has become a catalyst in human evolution. Because of the new technology, human behavior has changed dramatically during the past decade, and as Bernie Luskin, president-elect of the American Psychological Association’s Society for Media Psychology and Technology, said, the change is a technological juggernaut gaining more speed and growing immensely. 

Luskin is the author of 10 books and writes a regular column for Psychology Today magazine titled “The Media Psychology Effect.” He has received lifetime achievement awards for his contributions to media and education from many organizations including the American Psychological Association, UCLA Doctoral Alumni Association and California State University, Los Angeles, and two Emmys for documentaries on education.

The more social media entwines itself to the human experience, the more Luskin’s phone rings with questions and predictions about its presence in society. Calling it “Everything You Wanted to Know about Social Media and the Brain but Didn’t Know Who to Ask,” Luskin will be speaking about how social media influences the brain at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 15, at California Lutheran University in Samuelson Chapel.

VCReporter: Is there any evidence to support the idea that social media has an adverse effect on our brains?
Luskin: If you look at it objectively, social media is neutral. How it is used is how it makes a difference. . . . Health care is awash with it, and in all areas, whether it’s commerce, business, education, public policy, advertising, marketing — they’re all awash with various aspects of social media. I don’t approach it from a negative standpoint. Positive psychology is, you are the way you talk; you become what you speak. … But the direct answer is, certainly. Social media is just like a gun. It can be used for positive or negative purposes. . . . In all forms, there is no question there is an adverse effect on behavior, attention span and retention.

Considering the possible adverse affects on our behavior, attention span and retention, is there a “normal” amount of time one should be spending on social media sites, etc.?
No. It’s the new normal. The world changes and the future is human centered and screen deep. As far as I can tell, all these devices and software packages all publish their own stats on user use, whether they’re accurate or not, I don’t know. But those are just applications. When the phone rings, why do you answer it? Most people answer it because it rings. When it rings, you want to know what’s on the other side. It’s the same with Facebook. If you want to get to the human contact on the other side, you have to go through the site. . . . There is positive and negative results to all these things. I think excessive use of this technology diminishes one’s ability to think in a more relaxed way and may even reduce the nature of the epiphanies people get when they learn. On the other hand, they do assimilate a lot of information. Research is clear now that attention spans have become shorter, people are changing and newer generations have less patience and need response more quickly. Is it good or bad?  In the future, who knows? Maybe that is just a part of the way things will be.

The Arab Spring or Occupy Wall Street are the poster children for big things coming from social media. There are obviously examples in which social media helps people in ways that are under-publicized. I’m thinking of shyness, for instance. In the same way that we know iPads are a boon to children with autism, is a Twitter account sometimes the way to break through crippling shyness?
Maybe. It opens up behavior in the form that it is being applied. It depends on whether you’re actually interfacing with a person and the outcome. There certainly are tools that are proven to have positive effects when using software packages correctly. . . . Learned helplessness is by definition the predisposition to failure. People who go through learning experiences or other experiences that are repeatedly unsuccessful develop a syndrome where the expectation is failure and takes them down a path. It’s very important to realize you have to sort through all the engagements with the data you’re going through to evaluate what you are doing and try to be on a good track so that what you get out of it is positive. These devices are addictive and addiction is another interesting phenomenon. Addiction itself is not negative or positive; it just depends on how you use it.

What role do you predict social media will play in the future? Positive or negative?
Most simple answer I can give is “more.” It’s a juggernaut. You can’t put it back in the bottle. It’s increasing before our eyes. You can go to any magazine or newspaper and find a new phenomenon coming out and it’s going to change, improve and become more pervasive. It’s just “more.” It won’t go back. There will be both positive and negative effects, massively. The world is linked together. There is as much good as there is negative. There needs to be more public education about the good parts of social media and publicize the negatives about the addictive characteristics and desensitization. . . . We’re going to have to continually catch up because there is always going to be more, and the future is going to bring us one surprise after another.