Roderick Ioerger wrote an interesting post for Marketing Pilgrim a few days ago, where he asked is social media an impediment to problem solving? The basic argument is the idea that the convenience of having others readily available to answer your questions inhibits finding the solution yourself and thus leads to less critical thinking. It’s a valid argument, but I don’t agree with the conclusion.
From the post:
Social media is enabling people to abandon their searching, critical thinking, and problem solving skills in favor of allowing their peers to assist them.
I won’t argue against that, but I will say there’s a big difference between enabling something and automatically leading to that something. A home gym enables me to tone and grow muscle. My waistline is proof that it’s not a forgone conclusion.
You could make the argument that searching isn’t critical thinking either. After all searching is really about asking a question and having someone else answer it for you. The critical thinking component comes into play when deciding which answer is the one you trust and in the queries you devise to find that information.
As I said in a comment on Roderick’s post:
There will always be some who prefer to find information themselves and there will always be some who ask others for the information. In the end we all still have to make our own decisions on what we think is right and wrong.
The same people who turn to social media as a way to avoid thinking for themselves would find a way to avoid thinking regardless of the existence of social media. Sure a wealth of sources can help facilitate a lack of critical thinking for some people, but it’s not the cause of their lack of critical thinking. Those same people likely view one and only one search result. They likely ask the person sitting next to them prior to searching.
Some people avoid thought at all costs. There always have been and there always will be tools to enable that. The tools are not to blame, though.
A few months back I posted how critiquing someone else’s writing can improve your own. You can choose to follow the advice or not. In the end it’s a tool and it’s up to you to decide what to do with that tool. You can choose to think critically about writing or you can avoid the issue completely. In both cases the responsibility or blame is yours.
Social media is also a tool. It’s up to you to use it in a way that helps you grow or not.
Unless you’re reinventing the wheel, it could be argued that anything you do is avoiding thinking for yourself. When my car has a problem I take it to a mechanic to solve that problem. It doesn’t mean I’m losing the ability to solve problems. It simply means I don’t want to apply my problem solving skills to that specific problem.
How Social Media Fosters Critical Thinking
Social media is about community and conversation. If you genuinely participate with social sites you’re engaging in the discussion and debate going on. Debate is about critical thinking. Someone raises a question and it challenges you to think to prove your point. Your point challenges the next person in line to think harder in order to prove their point.
If you go to any forum the majority of questions could have been answered with a little bit of searching either on or off the forum. But that doesn’t mean the forum impedes critical thinking. There are many threads devoted to the back and forth debate. Ultimately the forum and social media are tools that can be used in positive ways and negative ways. Either can make it easy for someone to avoid critical thought as well as making it easy for someone to engage in critical thought.
We live in an age of information. In fact we’re all on information overload. There’s so much information available that any of us could walk through life without ever having to think. At the same time all of us can take that same information and think about it, make our own decisions about it, and add our own thoughts to the conversation.
Many problems cross our lives our lives daily. We can seek aid in solving them from others without losing our ability to solve problems. You might say that getting an easy answer through a social site can help critical thinking by allowing you to focus on those problems you wish to solve without letting other problems distract you from your task.
Roderick’s post derived from a post by Jeremy Zawodney. Jeremy pulled a comment from one of his previous posts that said in part:
I find that the people who work for me will, if I’m available, use asking me something as a substitute for thinking
Again it does happen. But is asking someone a question an automatic substitute for thinking? I don’t think so. Isn’t that the whole point of society. None of us can specialize in everything so we rely on each other to answer questions in their areas of expertise while we focus on getting better in our area of expertise.
Problem solving is a general skill. Solving a problem is a specific skill. You can ask someone for a solution to a problem without losing your problem solving skills. You can also ask someone to solve your problem as a way to avoid developing problem solving skills. The choice is yours.
What do you think? Does social media lead to a loss in critical thinking? Does it inhibit problem solving any more or less than anything else?
If you liked this post, consider buying my book Design Fundamentals