You probably know the feeling. You spend some time (minutes, even hours?) mindlessly slogging through your social feeds, going down the rabbit holes where the links lead you. You look up, and time has evaporated. And you feel…odd…somewhat detached from the real world and what’s going on around you. You may even find it difficult to connect face-to-face.
You’re not alone.
Scientists have been saying since at least 2009 that too much digital consumption inhibits emotional attachment in real life.
“A neurological study led by British scientist Susan Greenfield, Professor of Pharmacology at Oxford University, monitored a group of people experiencing social and personal problems related to their internet use – they were typically online six hours per day,” writes Paul Simpson in Print Power. “It found that their brain wave responses to faces (compared to, say a table or chair) were diminished, suggesting that, for these users, faces were of no more importance than everyday inanimate objects, which made them less likely to read the non-verbal clues essential to human communication.”
For brand marketers, who have long relied on the human face as a key way to connect with their customers in ads, this has major implications. Even Google’s chair Eric Schmidt expresses valid concerns back in 2009.
“I worry that the overwhelming rapidity of information is affecting cognition and deeper thinking,” he is quoted as saying by Simpson.
“Pixels don’t seem to stick,” said science writer Brandon Keim in Wired Magazine last year. “What I’ve read on screen seems slippery. When I recall it, the text is translucent in my mind’s eye.”
And for brands, creating engagement, recall and memory triggers is vital to successful marketing. So, what’s the solution? Apparently, less screen time is a key, Simpson continues, citing a follow-up study on the topic.
“Removing screens from pre-teens for five days significantly improved their ability to read the emotions in human faces,” said British scientist Susan Greenfield of Oxford University, the lead scientist in both studies.
For brands, the takeaway is clear. “All this suggests that the capacity for printed communications to connect with the human brain will mean it remains the go-to format for anyone wanting their words to have a deep and lasting impact,” he writes. Sounds right.