What is the Internet doing to our relationships, mental functioning and brain physiology? Does the surge in portable, all-pervasive texting turn millions of us into people who are “not just dumber and lonelier but more depressed and anxious,” more susceptible to obsessive-compulsive disorder, with shrinking brains that can look like those of drug addicts?
The July 16, 2012 issue of Newsweek magazine tackles issues like these in an article that is more serious and less sensationalist than the glitzy cover would suggest. The magazine does not conclude that the Internet can make us crazy but shows that research from around the world points in that direction. In some countries “Internet Addiction Disorder” is an accepted diagnosis especially relating to gaming, virtual reality and social media. One American neurologist describes the computer as “electronic cocaine” fueling cycles of mania followed by depressive stretches. Admittedly, some people need to keep connected as a part of their jobs, but consider how many among us cannot even turn off their devices for a few hours. When we can’t control the Internet, then the Internet controls us.
Amazon lists a number of recent books, some with disturbing titles like Digital Vertigo: How Today’s Online Social Revolution Is Dividing, Diminishing, and Disorienting Us or iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming Its Hold on Us. I’ve read similar books and perused the Amazon descriptions and evaluations of others. Most appear to be research-oriented, written by professionals, and not especially sensationalist. Like the Newsweek article, there is recognition that the Internet, including social networking, has tremendous value but these writers express concern about the possible implications of continuous Internet use. There is growing evidence that this adversely impacts our brain structure, cognition, stress levels and relationships.
Is this our latest god that we submit to and worship? Despite the brain scans and respected research is all of this an over-reaction to a new social trend? “Our world is not going to change, and technology will continue to penetrate society even deeper leaving us little chance to react” writes one critic. Left unanswered is the question of how we make maximum use of technology without letting it destroy us.
What is your reaction? Please comment.