Social media makes women stupid…or does it?


According to a recent study, girls at college and university are pretty silly. Rather than spending their time diligently studying in their college library, getting involved in a student protest or embarking on a pub crawl, their bodies covered in blue paint and dressed like a smurf, they are in fact, spending a staggering 12 hours of their day transfixed by social media. That’s 12 hours on average – half a day – engaged in some form of media use, “in particular texting, music, the internet and social networking”.

Silly girls.

The piece of research, carried out by the Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine, questioned 483 female college students at an American northeast university about their social media habits. They were also asked to complete a survey about academic confidence, behaviours and problems. The findings are pretty bleak.

The lead author of the study, Jennifer Walsh, concluded: “We found women who spend more time using some forms of media report fewer academic behaviours, such as completing homework and attending class, lower academic confidence and more problems affecting their school work, like lack of sleep and substance use,” adding that the study was one of the first to explore mechanisms of media effects on academic outcomes.

Chartered Psychologist Dr Arthur Cassidy has drawn even starker conclusions from the study: “Female freshers are more vulnerable to internet activity and may devote more time to it as they negotiate their identities from late adolescence into young adulthood.

“As they are more emotionally communicative in contrast to their male counterparts, they are more vulnerable to psychological dependency and feedback from others on social networking sites.”

So that’s that, girls. Close your Facebook account, chuck your laptop out of the window, and get back to the books. When it comes to the internet – you’re doing it all wrong.

In some ways, it’s not difficult to see what Cassidy is getting at. Blurry pictures of girls pouting as they hold up their iPhones and take pictures of themselves are nauseatingly endemic online.

Hastily ‘de-tagging’ any unflattering photos is practically a university morning ritual, checking to see how many ‘friends’ you have accumulated and how many ‘likes’ your pictures have received since the last time you signed into Facebook (i.e. an hour ago) can be pretty distracting. This ‘gamification’ of life is certainly alarming; the point-scoring, counting up our ‘friends’ and ‘likes’ to give us a sense of self-worth is pretty sad.

All this when you could be learning about Aristotle’s theory of the golden mean (all things in moderation – a very relevant lesson for those American girls on Facebook for 12 hours a day.)

But I can’t see why these findings aren’t just as applicable and relevant to male college students as to female college students, and why boys’ online habits and academic performance weren’t similarly scrutinised and commented on.

I have clear memories, while I was studying for my diploma in law, of sitting at the back of a lecture theatre, while before me a sea of identical laptop screens showed the same cricket match. Very distracting if you’re not one for cricket.

And as for football transfer deadline day, the lecture theatre would be positively abuzz with male law students anxiously checking the latest footballer their team had acquired. “Torres to Chelsea for 50 million!” was the whisper going around the lecture theatre, as our lecturer, blissfully unaware, rambled on about the merits of proportionality in domestic administrative law, (or something like that – I was too busy checking my Facebook profile).

The thing is, the kids are all right. Really, they are. Yes, 12 hours online is a pretty alarming amount of time to be spent glued to the internet. But idle gossip and self-promotion are all features of everyday life, with or without the internet. Smart girls and boys will limit their Facebook activity once they become bored of taking pictures of themselves and eagerly checking how many ‘likes’ they attract. They’ll soon discover more productive, enlightened uses for the internet, if they weren’t already doing so.

And just think of all the ways in which the internet has acted as a rallying cry for women, galvanising them into addressing key concerns that face us today.

What about the marvellous Everyday Sexism Project, cataloguing women’s experiences of sexist behaviour (10 new examples of which are published on Telegraph Wonder Women every Tuesday), or the online petition calling for No More Page Three, with yes, a very active Facebook presence.

What about the SlutWalk movement that spread all over the world with the help of the internet, or the online blog of the Pakistani school pupil,Malala Yousafzai? Her blog, campaigning for girl’s education led to her being shot by the Taliban, igniting a global outcry of horror that girls could still be treated like this in today’s world

Studies such as the Miriam Hospital’s Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine’s, which lead to statements being casually thrown around that broadly paint all girls as “vulnerable” and “psychologically dependent”, fail to recognise the many weird and wonderful ways in which the internet has aided women’s advancement in society; our accumulation of knowledge, cultural, social and political, that simply wasn’t available to women of previous generations.

Some women, particularly at university age, will use the internet to refine their image rather than their ideologies, certainly, but girls fretting over what they look like and how many boys they know is nothing new. You just give them a few years, and watch how social media enables them to become more powerful, dominant, and more culturally and socially aware than ever before. Once, of course, they’ve stopped refreshing their Facebook page.