July 10, 2012
Questions about the Internet’s deleterious effects on the mind are at least as old as hyperlinks. But even among Web skeptics, the idea that a new technology might influence how we think and feel—let alone contribute to a great American crack-up—was considered silly and naive, like waving a cane at electric light or blaming the television for kids these days. Instead, the Internet was seen as just another medium, a delivery system, not a diabolical machine. It made people happier and more productive. And where was the proof otherwise?
Now, however, the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
The latest Net-and-depression study may be the saddest one of all. With consent of the subjects, Missouri State University tracked the real-time Web habits of 216 kids, 30 percent of whom showed signs of depression. The results, published last month, found that the depressed kids were the most intense Web users, chewing up more hours of email, chat, videogames, and file sharing. They also opened, closed, and switched browser windows more frequently, searching, one imagines, and not finding what they hoped to find.
They each sound like Doug, a Midwestern college student who maintained four avatars, keeping each virtual world open on his computer, along with his school work, email, and favorite videogames. He told Turkle that his real life is “just another window”—and “usually not my best one.” Where is this headed? she wonders. That’s the scariest line of inquiry of all.
This article was posted: Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 1:41 am