How often do you share stuff online? If you are like many people who use social media, sharing content is a daily activity. However, perhaps it is time to stop. New research suggests we actually fail to understand what we are sharing.
This was an interesting study in which students were given 40 different pieces of content all relating to whether old people should be given assistance after they had fallen over. Half of the students were told they could share or respond to the content. The other half of the students were told that sharing or commenting was not possible. Then, each group of students was given a comprehension test to see how much of the original posts they could understand. The individuals who did no sharing were able to understand the original posts much better than the people who shared them.
In a second test, individuals were asked to share web content and were then given an article from the New Scientist magazine to read. They then took a comprehension test on that article to see how much they understood. The same test was also given to people who had seen the same web content, but had not shared it. In this test the people who shared the web content performed worse in the comprehension test than the people who did no online sharing.
Sharing creates mental overload
The study shows that when you are busy thinking of sharing something or actively pressing buttons to share an item, your brain is unable to cope with also trying to remember and understand what you are reading. This is known as “cognitive overload” and it happens when too many demands are made on your conscious brain.
Social media sharing appears to present us with high cognitive overload. We concentrate on sharing an item, meaning that our actual attention for that item is lowered. The result is that we see something interesting on the web, realise it will interest our friends and colleagues and start sharing it before we have had a chance to process it mentally. We may not even understand what we are sharing.
Furthermore, it means that when you start sharing relevant and interesting content, the material you are sharing is reduced in value to yourself because you actually cannot recall and use it in your own business due to lowered comprehension.
Understand first, share later
This study suggests we should not be “click happy” to share things. Instead, we would be better off reading content, thinking about it, perhaps making notes about it, and then sharing it once we have understood it.
One way of doing this is to collect the items you find interesting into a bookmarks folder in your browser, or compile a list of them in Evernote or OneNote, for instance. An alternative to do this is Pocket.
Whatever you do, though, avoiding instant sharing is a good idea. You will understand more of what you are reading, whether that is the original content you might want to share, or subsequent content. Sharing slows you down and reduces your comprehension of what you are working on.
To help you, I have removed the sharing buttons from this post. If you want to share it you’ll have to think about it first…!