Volume 92, Issue 49

Tuesday, December 1, 1998



Internet addictions virtually damaging

Computers interfere with relationships. No, hold on, don't laugh. In the past month I've encountered too many tales of ruined marriages and broken friendships to not be convinced.

Most everyone at university has accepted computers into their lives, recognizing their incredible practical value. Yet, if a computer's purpose were strictly practical, it wouldn't need all those bells and whistles touted by salespeople as "necessary."

An old IBM PS/2 – there's probably a vast graveyard of these computers where, like elephants, they go to die when high schools finish with them – could easily handle the process of writing an essay. But with these faster, glitzier, multimedia systems, people are suddenly discovering the thrill of multiplayer gaming, chatrooms, web surfing and, of course, cyber pornography in its many different manifestations.

Thus we are faced with a situation in which the stereotypical "nerd," who had a relationship only with his computer, is becoming obsolete. Instead, the computer is diverting more and more time from the social lives of a diverse multitude of people. Web addiction is increasingly becoming a very real concern, as people spend more than 30 hours a week online.

The problem lies in the computer's illusion of interaction. The internet allows you to communicate but it doesn't contain any of the subtle clues of voice, body language or inflection that are so comforting within social interaction.

To carry this point further, the proliferation of sex chats appearing on web pages or through IRC give the illusion of a sexual encounter. Anyone becoming a little too caught up in these discussions would be well-advised to remember the things being typed are probably less believable than professional wrestling. And keep in mind the average internet user is a male between the ages of 14 and 35.

Increasingly, people are using the internet more than they are interacting with others – and they should not sit passively reading web pages when they could be involved in discussions with real live people. This activity should be moderated carefully to ensure the computer doesn't interfere with a normal social life.

Ask yourself if you've ever skipped an invitation to something real because of something virtual and if so, worry. Make sure you never have to apologize to a loved one for spending too much time with a computer – because inanimate objects can't be hurt when they're ignored.

Basically, make sure you put people first. And remember, while a picture may be worth a thousand words, a touch can purchase the Oxford English Dictionary.

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Copyright The Gazette 1998