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Tweet at your risk

I got distracted by an article in the NY Times about Tweeting  and started to think about it for another class and realized it had more to do with Psych then Media so I thought I would post it here:

Can Humans say “NO” to pushing the “SEND” button?

A NY Times article titled “How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life”, published Feb.12, 2015 is about the horrors and damage of public shaming made possible by such technologies as Tweeter. The article tells us that, “In 2013, Justine Sacco, 30 years old and the senior director of corporate communications at IAC, began tweeting acerbic little jokes about the indignities of travel.”
This was an obviously intelligent person and by her job description as a PR person should have been social adept and aware of political correctness. Yet how did she send such emotionally self-damming comments over a public medium that ended up turning on her? One of the answers to this question might be in an aside made by the reporter. “She chuckled to herself as she pressed the send button,” after the last of three tweets: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” ‘Chuckled’ is a body reaction to a feeling- a physiological unconscious feeling response to a conscious emotion according to Alberto Damasio. It is not a thought from the cerebral areas of her brain like, “Is this a political correct thing to say?”

The term cultural lag is used in a number of sociological theories trying to explain and theorize society’s involvement with new technologies (Osburn 1922). However is it possible that the science of sociology might need a new term to explain some of the physiological short comings of human beings to consciously censor very short typed messages and images, sent at the speed of light via public mediums such as Twitter? Is it possible that the appeal of Public-Whispering-Media is that it happens primarily at an unconscious emotional level of our brains, out of awareness of our conscious rational minds, and possibly well below the radar of the social sciences?

We would content that interactions of human beings which rely solely on typed short cryptic electronic exchanges involve mind processes and habitual behaviors imprinted on the core consciousness or proto core consciousness of our brains (Damasio 2014) which are outside of our conscious awareness where rational decisions are made. Let us for the sake of discussion call this phenomena the Physiological Consciousness Lag, PCL for short.

It could be said that one of the first experimental demonstrations of PCL was developed in the early 1980s,by Benjamin Libet. “By using electroencephalography (EEG) to record the brain activity of volunteers who had been told to make a spontaneous movement. With the help of a precise timer that the volunteers were asked to read at the moment they became aware of the urge to act, Libet found there was, on an average, a 200 millisecond delay, between the urge to lift the finger and the movement itself. But the EEG recordings also revealed a signal that appeared in the brain even earlier – 550 milliseconds, on average – before the action.”
The signal was called the readiness potential which is the signature of the brain planning and preparing our body to do something like push a button. This happens out of our conscious awareness. So it is possible that even before we consciously hit the send button on our phones our brains are unconsciously preparing us to undertake a habitual unconscious behaviorism, generated by repetitive texting on phones, which includes pushing the send button.

Another study related to the PCL was done by the Israeli neuroscientist Rafi Malach who presented subjects with pictures and asked them to judge their own emotional reactions as positive, negative or neutral — a self-oriented, introspective task. Different subjects were present the same pictures but were asked to very quickly categorize the pictures as, for example, animals or not. These subjects were seeing the pictures consciously, but Malach found that “the brain circuits involved in scrutinizing self-reactions (as indicated by the emotional reaction task) were inhibited in the fast categorization task. Subjects also rated their self-awareness as high in the emotional reaction task and low in the fast categorization task.” Malach concluded that the results comport with “the strong intuitive sense we have of ‘losing our selves’ in a highly engaging sensory-motor act.”(Ned Block 2010)

What is important about these two studies is the possibility that they demonstrate that the Physiological Consciousness Lag, PCL of our brains do not allow for a quick enough rational evaluation of typed very short impulsive messages motivated by our emotions.

At best the self-awareness of a, typed emotionally generated feeling message sent or quickly replied to only allows the conscious brain less than 1/5 th of second to say yes or no. In the real world a 1/5th of second is not a lot of time compared to sending a tweet that will potential live in history as long as the internet does. In a real conversation with real people, an off the cuff comment can be corrected if we sense through the facial expression or questioning looks that our words might have been misconstrued. Not so with electronic public whispering. But is this the fault of the technology or is it a problem PCL?

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