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Unraveling the Impact of Social Media on Millennials & Gen Z: Exploring Deductive Reasoning Inadequacies

Having taught in universities around the world for 15 years, I have seen the decline of not only students' ability to 'think' critically but also universities dumbing down the rigor of curriculums in order to accommodate the feelings of students and lessen complaints from parents. This compromises the integrity of education and undermines the fundamental purpose of higher learning, which is to foster intellectual growth and independent thinking that would contribute to a student adding value to a company that would eventually employ them.

In the realm of critical thinking, deductive reasoning serves as a cornerstone, enabling individuals to draw logical conclusions based on-premises or evidence. However, the pervasive influence of social media has, for a long time, cast a shadow over the deductive reasoning abilities of Millennials and Gen Z, altering their cognitive processes and decision-making frameworks.


Social Media: A Paradigm Shift in Information Consumption

Millennials (born between 1981-1996) and Gen Z (born between 1997-2012) have grown up in an era where social media platforms reign supreme as primary sources of information, communication, and entertainment. From Facebook to Instagram, Twitter to TikTok, these digital ecosystems inundate users with a constant stream of content, shaping their perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors.

While social media offers unparalleled connectivity and access to diverse perspectives, it also presents a double-edged sword. The algorithmic design of platforms often creates echo chambers, reinforcing existing beliefs and filtering out dissenting opinions. This, known as confirmation bias, hampers deductive reasoning by limiting exposure to alternative viewpoints and critical analysis.

While reading students' work, it is clear which students have read scholarly sources from academic journals versus those who have spent years consuming not only social media posts but also liberal or conservative news sources. Those adept at deductive reasoning demonstrate a depth of analysis and an ability to synthesize information from diverse, credible sources. Those not adept at deductive reasoning exhibit surface-level understanding, relying on anecdotal evidence or unsubstantiated claims found on social media platforms. When I bring this to their attention in order to help them understand that they have not logically addressed the question or provided a response that would be considered one for a university student, it is often met with anger and tears.

Their childish emotional reaction underscores the deep-seated influence of social media and the challenges educators face in fostering critical thinking skills in an environment where emotional reactions often overshadow rational discourse. It also highlights the need for empathy and patience, within reason, to guide students toward a more analytical approach to learning despite the initial resistance they may display.

Instant Gratification vs. Analytical Depth

The instant gratification propagated by social media prioritizes brevity and sensationalism over nuance and depth. Bite-sized content, such as memes, tweets, and viral videos, dominates users' feeds, promoting superficial engagement at the expense of critical reflection. Consequently, I have seen Millennials and Gen Z struggle to delve beneath the surface of a topic. They often opt for quick judgment rather than taking the time to execute a thorough examination of different viewpoints.

Moreover, the known dopamine-driven reward system inherent in social media encourages reactive rather than reflective thinking. Likes, shares, and comments serve as validation metrics, incentivizing impulsive responses and emotional reactions. As a result, deductive reasoning, which demands careful evaluation and logical inference, often takes a backseat to the allure of immediate satisfaction. I've observed that this phenomenon cuts both ways. While some individuals crave the validation of "likes," others thrive on engaging in debates to garner attention from those who oppose their viewpoints.

The Erosion of Analytical Skills

The abundance of clickbait headlines, doctored images, and misleading information blurs the line between fact and fiction, challenging individuals' ability to discern truth from falsehood. Consequently, deductive reasoning becomes compromised as users struggle to separate reliable sources from unreliable ones.

Furthermore, the phenomenon of "fake news," which was known way before former President Donald J. Trump made the term famous, amplifies cognitive biases and undermines rational thought processes. Echo chambers and filter bubbles reinforce preconceived notions, breeding skepticism towards opposing viewpoints and fostering tribalistic mentalities. In such an environment, deductive reasoning becomes a casualty of ideological polarization, as individuals prioritize ideological alignment over logical coherence.


Mitigating the Impact: Nurturing Critical Thinking Skills

To counteract the adverse effects of social media on deductive reasoning, proactive measures must be taken to nurture critical thinking skills among Millennials and Gen Z. Educational institutions, from elementary to universities to parents and policymakers, all play pivotal roles in promoting media literacy, teaching students to question, analyze, and validate information critically.

Encouraging interdisciplinary approaches that integrate logic, philosophy, and media studies can empower students to navigate the digital landscape with discernment and skepticism. By fostering a culture of inquiry and intellectual curiosity, we as educators can equip Millennials and Gen Z with the tools needed to resist cognitive biases, challenge misinformation, and engage in deductive reasoning effectively.

We must understand that the pervasive influence of social media has reshaped the cognitive landscape of Millennials and Gen Z, posing challenges to their deductive reasoning abilities. By understanding the underlying mechanisms at play and implementing targeted interventions, we all can empower the next generation to navigate the digital age with clarity, coherence, and critical acumen.  However, this cannot and will not be done if we, as educators, kowtow to students, their parents, and the administration of the schools we work in. We must uphold academic standards by promoting rigorous critical thinking and writing skills. It is imperative that this remains paramount, even in the face of resistance or pushback. Only by maintaining academic integrity can we truly equip students with the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly complex world.

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Thank you for speaking on this crisis. As a millennial, I can relate to most of the issues you mentioned in the article. In conversations I used to be the first to have an opinion about a current topic but when asked to explain my stance, I couldn't articulate my reasons. That is because I didn't even take the time to do my research so I could make educated decisions. I took what social media fed me and claimed it as my own. It is crucial indeed to learn the skill of critical thinking and to also teach our children how to think.

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