The July 16, 2012, cover story of Newsweek was iCrazy: Panic, Depression, PsychosisHow Connection Addiction Is Rewiring Our Brains (pp. 2430). This is another in an ongoing parade of articles from many sources cautioning about the deleterious effects of the Internet and social media (See blog.reliableinsights.com, 5/15/12, concerning a major piece recently in The Atlantic about Facebook).
Author Tony Dokoupil analyzes the cumulative evidence that our growing addiction to the virtual world via our electronic devices is creating intellectual deficiencies and mental illnesses. Dokoupil highlights the medical communitys growing validation of this effect:
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has never included a category of machine-human interactions. But that view is suddenly on the outs. When the new DSM is released next year, Internet Addiction Disorder will be included for the first time, albeit in an appendix tagged for further study. (p. 27)
Dokoupil warns we may be pulled relentlessly into a virtual-world addiction via the promise of steady, positive strokes, while deceiving ourselves in the process:
We may appear to be choosing to use this technology, but in fact we are being dragged to it by the potential of short-term rewards. Every ping could be social, sexual, or professional opportunity, and we get a mini-reward, a squirt of dopamine, for answering the bell. These rewards serve as jolts of energy that recharge the compulsion engine, much like the frisson a gambler receives as a new card hits the table, MIT media scholar Judith Donath recently told Scientific American. Cumulatively, the effect is potent and hard to resist. (p. 28)
Dokoupil ponders the proverbial question, does the virtual world hurt people or are hurt people more attracted to the virtual world? In his words:
Does the medium break normal people with its unrelenting presence, endless distractions, and threat of public ridicule for missteps? Or does it attract broken souls? (p. 30)
My bottom line all along has been it depends on what you bring to the table. If you are approaching the virtual world with a preexisting, healthy self-concept and worldview, then the virtual world should be just another resource you manage, another platform in which you function. On the other hand, if you are struggling with emotional, mental, or spiritual challenges, then the virtual world will likely only complicate those issues. The virtual world doesnt solve anything; it merely presents a new arena in which to wrestle. And if that is you, then the important thing is to do something about it.
But we can argue all day about whether the Internet caused your problem. Even Dokoupil acknowledges taking appropriate action to fix your situation is more important than endlessly analyzing causality:
But in a way, it doesnt matter whether our digital intensity is causing mental illness, or simply encouraging it along, as long as people are suffering. (p. 30)
Therefore, if the virtual world is something you successfully manage, then more power to you! But if the virtual world has begun to manage you, then you need to fix something within yourselfthe sooner, the better.
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