The effect of the internet on young lives is a hardy perennial subject discussed by journalists, researchers and scientists alike. Its damaging effects on the emotional, psychological and mental health of our youth have been well documented. Tragic stories of youngsters having their hearts broken by failed online relationships, are almost endless. But adults are also adversely affected by technology: Researchers have found that social media, for example, erodes our ability to think for ourselves, can lead to depression and feelings of isolation. So although the internet is overwhelmingly a force for good, it isn’t all good. Read on for five ways in which the internet could be destroying your life.
1. Email Is Like Gambling
This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Email follows the phenomenon of “variable interval reinforcement schedule”, which is used to describe the behaviour of repeatedly performing an action with the hope that a reward will ensue. If you’re a gambler, your reward will be cash. Lots of it. For emailers, the reward is simply a great email. So we keep checking our email, waiting for the reward to come, while at the same time professing to hate it. The result: we gamble our time away on it, time that could be used in the pursuit of more productive endeavours.
2. Twitter Can Turn the Most Innocent Into Trolls
The temptation to hit back at vitriolic, unfair and unjust tweets can prove too irresistible, especially when there’s the cloak of anonymity on offer. Unfortunately, Twitter’s the social media engine that’s powered by anger. There are tragic stories of individuals who have taken their own lives once their true identities have been discovered. Individuals who ‘turned into trolls’ as a result of some grave injustice or wrong they perceived, and seemingly to the bewilderment of those who knew them.
Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, was once analysed to determine which were the most prevalent of emotions on the site. The answer? Anger.
3. Facebook Could Turn You Into a Racist
If you spend a lot of your time on Facebook, beware the insidious ability of the site to turn the most open-minded person into an out-and-out racist. Facebook, according to one study reported in Salon, is being used to spread racism. The study found that frequent users of the platform were more likely to be accepting of prejudice. Or it could be interpreted that Facebook is mostly used by those with racist sympathies. The authors of the study posit that Facebook is a powerful medium to spread racist bile because those who use it are primarily looking for social inclusion, and will seek to obtain this even at the expense of their innate sense of right and wrong. The authors describe the dual forces of a “need to connect” and “shallow processing” as being fundamental to the spreading of hatred.
4. Social Media is Being Used to Manipulate You
Ever heard of the term, ‘astroturfing’? It’s used to describe the way companies ‘plant’ thousands of personalities to “drown out” message boards with their opinions, with the aim of ’influencing’ (manipulating) their target audience. This chicanery (or is it cynicism?) is widespread, I’m afraid. Worse, it’s been shown to be pretty effective.
Astroturfing is deeply troubling. In one case study, a group of students were asked via a questionnaire for their views on climate change. The same students were then assigned to peruse either a bona fide climate information page or one set up (i.e. astroturfed) to discredit the concept. The researchers discovered that those students who visited the astroturfed pages and encountered the deluge of fake comments were more likely to have doubts about climate change in spite of earlier views in favour of it. In other words, the students were affected by these fake, ‘planted’ astroturf sites. What this shows is the amorality of some companies where the end justifies the means: they will go as far as to sabotage honest debate for their own purposes.
5. The Internet Can Be as Addictive as Hard Drugs
A newspaper recently published a story about a child who “smashed his parents’ bedroom because they turned off the internet.” Studies have shown that a form of ‘technology addiction’ which has some similarities with cocaine and alcohol addiction exists in adults, too. Scientists say that the physiological effects of internet addiction are similar to those observed in the brains of those addicted to hard drugs.
What are your thoughts about these findings? Would you add anything to this list? Or do you think that this is all madness? Share your comments below.