ARGUMENT: The Internet impairs our ability to contemplate and concentrate for long, sustained periods of time

AN ex-colleague of mine (Ryan Calder) started an interesting debate about the Internet on Facebook. He was asking whether or not people thought that the Internet (and cyber culture in general) impairs our ability to concentrate. Some of the comments were quite interesting.

Does the Internet impair our ability to concentrate?

Kathryn: It's a complete problem. I actually disconnect when I have to graft properly now. It's to easy to justify looking at loads of irrelevant poop when you're permanently online.

T.J.: I have to force myself to write sometimes in places without the internet, and it's like de-toxing.

Ryan: At least your attention span isn't completely diminished... you both managed to engage in this status update momentarily.

Hayden: Yup, and video games and cartoons too. The brain learns to discard information at the same rate it receives it. What it doesn't learn to do is differentiate between PC time and real time so we end up discarding information constantly even when we shouldn't.

Lesley: Those of us who teach have seen this change for years! Certainly true. Not just the Internet - all technology.

Ryan: But isn't the Internet subsuming most technology? So increasingly, most gadgets have the Internet inherent in them?

Hayden: It is, and I find that the things I want to do have become over reliant on the internet. We have been conditioned into being reliant on the web for many things we wouldn't have been able to do in the past. Also most gadgets don't work without internet connectivity so we're stuck.

Marek: Ryan, I agree with you. People don't read anything else than short status updates and re-posts, moving constantly from one to the next. It is like people develop ADD from the moment they learn to use a mouse.

Tamlyn: Have you seen what it's doing to teenagers' spelling and grammar!? If you look at the Facebook page of the average teenager it looks like the person is half-witted!! I often have to have a 'face break' as I call it and take a week or so of no FB and of read books only.... feels like I'm saving my brain cells when I do it!

Marek: I do not entirely agree with Hayden on the video games and comics, though. Some of these require intense concentration.

Hayden: They do Marek but the rate of information being sent to the brain is so high that one cannot possibly retain it all so the brain sees it and discards it moments later as the games progress. So while they promote reasoning and good response they also train the brain to rapidly discard information that isn't immediately relevant. I see it in my own children and how it affects proper learning. It makes it that much more difficult to teach them when their brain is constantly discarding what they are presented with. As a result I limit video games to just a few hours on weekends.

Marek: Tamlyn, not only teenagers' spelling and grammar, but many adults too. And it is not the internet, but texting on cellphones, which usually with a certain level of maturity improve. It is also linked to social standing, and level of education with certain racial groups more prone than others.

Marek: I agree with you there, Hayden. I personally do not play video games, and I fully agree with you limiting childrens' gaming, using Whatsapp, Mxit and Facebook. I have a 20 year old student recently moving in with me, who in the beginning was constantly texting on Whatsapp. Meals are taken sitting down at the table, phones are left ringing or switched off, plugged out, with me setting the example. Texting now after a mere 3 months has been reduced to the bare minimum. Now I just have to get him off 9Gag :-)

Hayden: In our house too. My children will only get phones and Facebook etc. when there is a need for it. At dinner time Skype etc. gets ignored and we now only eat in front of the TV on a Friday pizza night as a treat. No phones at the table either. They only get discovery channel etc. in the morning as I find the cartoons just pout them in idle mode, which isn't good before school. Two hours of TV at night and that's it.

Andre: Case in point: I just read this thread and can't remember what the original status was. That being said, I do love knowing everything in the blink of an eye.

Marek: I don't have TV. I refuse to have the drone in the background, or constant streaming of propaganda and other mindless rubbish into my home. I prefer to choose what I allow into my home, and that applies to people too.

Hayden: Case in point. I just Googled a quote to "remember" where it was from. Too much effort to remember the old school way.

Marek: hahahahaha, I often have to Google stuff too, but I do have dictionaries lying around on my desk, just in case Google is wrong.

Hayden: I find it easier to type a quote in rather than wrack my brains to remember. Bad news I tell you.

Dave: It isn't the internet per se but our connectedness to it. Change to my provider and enjoy automatically facilitated periods of contemplation.

Hayden: ha ha ha, you mean downtime Dave?

Dave: Yeah. Except that downtime usually only provokes the kind of contemplation that focuses negatively on the service provider and raises blood pressure.

Ryan: Contemplation is becoming increasingly difficult. My brain thinks differently to how it used to. It only functions if there are diversions. It's a problem... I haven't even read all these comments...

Hilary: And I thought it was old age that was doing that!

Barrett: False... I am dyslexic and find it helps.

Galen: Interesting discussion! We are living in an era of instant gratification, which is largely fueled by web-culture. I think the shocking spelling & grammar is not a result of the Internet but rather created by teenagers themselves. Re video games: this really depends on what is played. They can do wonders for lateral & creative thinking, hand-eye co-ords and arguably even improve eyesight. I'd much rather have all the above than be fed television and have my brain die.

Marita: One of the contributing factors is surely that people no longer read books. There are so many digital connections out there that there is never any reason to pick up a book. A book demands that you get involved, concentrate on the characters and remember who they are. When young people come to University they are overwhelmed by the amount of required reading, because they have never developed the skill.

Barrett: The main point is that parents are being ripped off and kids not given the education they deserve. It has been proven that the SA education system is a mess and not worth the paper its written on.

*****

I'd like to note that I had to correct spelling and grammar for nearly every single one of these comments. Case in point?

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OPEN LETTER: When human soldiers kill for you

Dear World Leaders,

Could you ever take the life of another human being? What would it take for you to kill someone?

Assuming that most people are morally good, asking this of anyone seems to me morally wrong. Yet this is exactly what soldiers are asked to do when trained and sent to fight wars in foreign lands in the name of “national security.”

We would all like to believe that soldiers are no longer trained to kill by dehumanising the ‘enemy’ – by characterising them as sub-human and less deserving of living a human existence. We are made to believe that soldiers are now trained to kill “only when necessary”, but this isn’t quite the case, is it?

It is not in our nature to kill. Unless one is psychotic, the psychological trauma that comes with killing another human being, even in the name of defence, can have irreparable effects on both the soldier and society.

Instances of girlfriend and wife abuse may increase and traumatised soldiers may become plagued by fear and hatred. Equipping soldiers with expensive machinery – which we all have to pay for – and asking them to “fight for their country” is a burden on us all.

No man or woman should ever be asked to kill a fellow human being for any cause other than their own self-defence. To do this is to suppress a part of their humanity and to lose a part of yours as well.

Sincerely,
Humanity

“You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around – and why the parents will always wave back” – Bill Tammeus

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WEB ADDICTION: Synopsis, symptoms, statistics, research and treatment

Hi, my name is Jeff and I’m an addict. A web addict.

Several surveys and related research is leading to more and more psychologists being trained to identify and treat what has become known as Internet addiction or web abuse. It has even been suggested that web abuse be added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders within the American Journal of psychiatry.

SYNOPSIS:
Internet addiction has been labeled as a compulsive disorder with cyber sex and cyber porn addiction being the most common forms. Like most addictions these have an impact on an individual’s social and personal life.

The disorder has been further sub-catergorised into addiction to online gaming, compulsive surfing and eBay addiction. However, it has been noted that these only become a problem when they interfere with normal living and cause severe stress on family, friends, loved ones and work performance.

Internet addiction appears to be having real effects on people. One blogger has pointed out how websites have been ironically set up to provide information for sufferers, as well as info for attorneys and psychologists.

SYMPTOMS:
According to netaddiction.com:

"Internet addicts struggle to control their behaviors, and experience despair over their constant failure to do so. Their loss of self-esteem grows, fueling the need to escape even further into their addictive behaviors. A sense of powerlessness pervades the lives of addicts"

According to the Daily Telegraph web-addicts suffer from 4 symptoms:

  1. Forgetting to eat and sleep
  2. Needing more advanced technology or more hours online as ‘resistance’ to the pleasure given by their current system develops
  3. When deprived of their computer, genuine withdrawal symptoms are experienced; and,
  4. In common with other addictions, victims begin to have more arguments, suffer from fatigue, experience a decline in work performance, and begin to feel isolated from society - Andy Bloxham, Daily Telegraph, June 20, 2008

Related symptoms may be cravings (for better software, faster machines etc.), withdrawal (which may cause irritability, tremors and anxiety), a loss of sense of time, and negative social repercussions (such as neglecting real-life relationships). Some patients even report suffering nervous breakdowns when they can’t go online.

STATISTICS:
Although research into Internet addiction is sketchy (and usually concerns a group of white Americans) a few countries have conducted in-depth surveys. Below is a summary of the more recent findings.

  • British psychiatrists have reported that between 5% and 10% of online users are internet addicts.
  • In China the Beijing Military Region Central Hospital puts the number of teenage pathological computer users at 10 million.
  • Research from South Korea suggests the affliction is a serious public health problem, and estimates that 168,000 children may require psychotropic medications.
  • National (North American) surveys revealed that over 50% of Internet addicts also suffered from other addictions (mainly to drugs, alcohol, smoking, and sex).
  • Internet addicts also suffer from relationship problems in almost 75% of the cases.
  • Trends also showed that Internet addicts suffer from emotional problems such as depression and anxiety-related disorders (it has been suggested that web addicts often use the fantasy world of the Internet to psychologically escape unpleasant feelings or stressful situations in reality).
  • Gender stereotypes also seem to translate online: men are more likely to become addicted to online games, cyberporn, and online gambling, for example, while women are more likely to become addicted to chatting, instant messaging, eBay, and online shopping.

RESEARCH PROBLEMS:
It has been noted that around 70-80% of the subjects referred to in such research is comprised mostly of white Americans. However, the idea of Internet addiction does seem to be spreading around the globe like a 21st century plague.

Yet there is much dispute over whether or not such a condition is in fact unique. One psychiatrist has suggested that the Internet is merely another form of escapism for those with other problems:

"What most people online who think they are addicted are probably suffering from is the desire to not want to deal with other problems in their lives. Those problems may be a mental disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.), a serious health problem or disability, or a relationship problem. It is no different than turning on the TV so you won't have to talk to your spouse, or going "out with the boys" for a few drinks so you don't have to spend time at home. Nothing is different except the modality" - John M. Grohol

TREATMENT:
Despite this, several doctors around the world are recommending various treatment options for those who believe they are web addicts. Dr Kimberley Young, who maintains www.netaddiction.com suggests that like an eating disorder, the key to beating Internet addiction is to develop a healthy pattern of consumption.

"Treatment for Internet addiction focuses on moderation and controlled use of the Internet, much in the way those suffering from eating disorders must relearn healthy eating patterns" – Dr Kimberley Young

Dr Grohol, on the other hand, believes that Internet addition is simply a behavioral problem. He suggests that "it's the behavior, and behaviors are easily treatable by traditional cognitive-behavior techniques in psychotherapy".

I leave you with a snippet from Wired Magazine, which took a similar skeptical stance towards the idea that the Internet is dangerously addictive:

…it's so much easier to date an avatar. Sound familiar? Your friend the World Wide Web may be a monkey on your back. Or not. Just ask yourself this: If Google were a drug, would I smoke it?

Links:
Wired Magazine: Internet Addiction articles
News article: Internet addiction is a ‘clinical disorder’

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