Newsletter #489 – Does the Internet Make Us Crazy?

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.

    • Jay Laws
    • July 19th, 2012

    The web is an exciting god, available on demand and will enslave like other idols. I feel times of web and smartphone “fasting” is important to focus attention personally on other human beings. Those who can focus attention have a valuable skill that accomplishes much.

    • I agree Jay. The web does become a god for so many people and addiction is easy. Like you I take regular times away – including putting limits on my email time and not checking for messages every three minutes. Fasting from this is very important but how sad that so many people cannot turn away.

  1. All alive today grew up, and many grew old, listening passively to ‘mass’ media that allowed absolutely feedback or discussion.

    That followed a millennium of very passive listening to sermons. ‘Social’ media allowed us to reply, however irresponsibly, and even to be heard by many others.

    The phatic content and moronic language employed in social media perhaps reflect the mid-grace-C-and-lower half of the population’s intelligence curve.

    • Interesting comment Galen. Problem is, a lot of the people who have Internet additions are pretty intelligent. Of course intelligence doesn’t correlate much with self-control.

    • Bruce Zoeller
    • July 20th, 2012

    After reading this, I am under conviction to unsubscribe to this blog and others to keep from becoming addicted!
    Ha, Ha.
    Seriously, we do need to continually question how we use all of our time for the glory of God. The internet and social media, like money, work, exercise, spouses, kids, etc. can be used for good and for evil.
    We need to continually make wise choice in every area of life.

    • Hey Bruce, Unsubscribe from the others but keep this one. Nobody gets addicted to what I write 🙂

      Your more serious comment is good. A lot of things can be used for good and evil. The Newsweek article points to a disturbing trend but I think some people make things worse when everything is turned into a gloom and doom perspective or into another conspiracy theory. You, of course do not do that. Neither does Newsweek. I need to keep reminding myself that God knew the Internet was coming and he still is in control.

    • Scott La Point
    • July 20th, 2012

    More than a decade ago I remember a professor in graduate school positing an idea about where technology was taking us as a society. Not meaning to be sacrilegious, he posited that perhaps technology would be the anti-Christ. Other students scoffed at the notion, but to me it made sense given how dependent people were becoming on the Internet and their Crackberries. Certainly, in the late 20th century, society had begun to dig for itself a broken cistern that promised life. Jeremiah 2:13 notes, “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.”

    The Internet promises connection but delivers with a cost. We have hewed out broken cisterns and bowed to technology. Indeed, as a society we have become curved and deformed , stooped and bent, believing that technology can sustain and build what only God can. We have become enslaved and addicted and forfeited genuine relationships for superficial ones.

    Not having a cellphone has actually allowed me to be more intentional socially and otherwise. So how do we “make maximum use of technology without letting it destroy us”? We stay plugged in to the Living Water and take a break (forsake?) from technology.

  2. Interesting post. Jacques Ellul commented years ago at depth that technology is not neutral and implicated in every aspect of social relations. He rejected the claims that technological improvement would “free us”. What I thought interesting in his thought was that, for him, technology allows people NOT to take responsibility about their actions and mistakes…

    • I never cease to be amazed at how much on target Ellul was, way back when I was a graduate student and still now. Maybe it had something to do with the French air that he breathed in Bordeaux.

      I was interested in the logo and blog site of the unnamed person who typed this post. I clicked on the link and now I know it is you, mon chere ami Parisien.

      • Yes, Ellul was really a prophet, a visionary. Sadly, his thought has been moderately appreciated in France by his institutional Reformed Church until… his death. However, his though has been studied at depth in the U.S. Some of his books dealing with technology have actually been published in English: The Technological System and the Technological Bluff. Another book where he is interviewed on technology is: Jacques Ellul on Religion, Technology and Politics.
        Glad that my logo prompted your interest. I guess it’s a good logo then… 🙂

      • Good logo. Good Frenchman who wrote the post. No bias from me.

    • Marje Selmecka
    • July 23rd, 2012

    I remember before cell phones, people talked to people in the grocery store.
    Interestingly, now they try to make hearing aids small, and yet (don’t know the correct term) the thing for cell phones clips on the ear is large.

    I’m 66 and miss the social interaction.

    • Thanks Marge. I appreciate your honesty in this and your frustration.

      I’m guessing you are describing a Blackberry – the ugly thing that some people keep attached to their ears. I guess I don’t see anything wrong with them, they serve a useful purpose for some folks but obviously I don’t have one.

      You might disagree but I think we still can have social interaction. Maybe it has something to do with personality but my wife and I (both older than you) talk to people in the grocery store all the time. Let me tell you about Alejandro. He was a check-out guy, only 22, so I asked if he was a student. I discovered he was in psychology so we got talking and now exchange text messages, talk on the phone, and meet every week so he can teach me how to be a photographer. Open your eyes, be interested in people, ask God to lead and you might be surprised.

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