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Damn the Hype! 

Enough black-and-white alarmism in the Internet wars

Action: A new Stanford study says the Internet can hurt one's social skills. Reaction: The media act like we just confirmed life on Pluto. Netizens want the researchers' bloody heads on a platter. Luddites scream, "Na-na na-na boo-boo! Told you so." The black-and-white hype is enough to make one move to a shack in Wyoming and give up society, wired and otherwise, forever.

"A new study which shows increased Internet use causes decreased face-to-face social interaction was roundly criticized by detractors as non-science," led an online Associated Press story. Does it really take an Ivy League science team to issue this decree? Of course computers can sap our social energy.

Take me. I write about the damned Internet. I spend probably 30 hours a week on-friggin'-line -- and I don't surf aimlessly or chat (unless I'm undercover in a white-supremacist room). I research, I e-mail with a dozen clients and friends and family around the world, I update my own Web site (www.shutup101.com/donna). I probably spend two hours a day reading news and commentary online. I just netted seven good story ideas from a marathon Internet session.

I'm not going to shit you: I'm beat. I can barely speak a full sentence. My head hurts. My back aches. I'm ready to kill the next person who walks through the door (but I love him too much). I can barely complete a sentence.

But I manage to rally. In an hour, my honey and I will join seven stimulating friends at our favorite Thai spot, drink a Singha, munch on veggie Pad Thai, and dish the South Carolina primaries and whether Madonna's "America Pie" sucks with our buddies (all of whom I keep up with via e-mail when we're not together). I'll come in with a mild hangover, cuddle with my cat and Loverboy, get up for brunch, buy some new shoes down the street, walk in the park, go to the art museum if there's time.

I won't be in some chat room all weekend chewing the fat with some guy who can't spell his own name. Others will be, though: I know some guys who walk in the door from work right past their wives and kids, and fire up computer games. Others try to buy every gift online so they never have to face a human again. And way too often people ogle porn sites instead of meeting real people to get it on with.

Conclusion: Some people spend too much time on the Internet. They're probably the same people who live half their lives in recliners and watch three or more sitcoms a week. Let's just say they weren't exactly engaging social dynamos to begin with.

You wouldn't know it from this week's headlines, though: "A Newer, Lonelier Crowd Emerges in Internet Study," warned the front page of The New York Times (www.nytimes.com on the Web). The story dramatically overstated the study's results: "The nation's obsession with the Internet is causing many Americans to spend less time with friends and family ..."

Crunch the numbers. Times alarmism aside, of the 4,113 Americans surveyed (via the Internet!), one-third (1,371) spent more than five hours a week online. Of those, 13 percent (about 178) said they spent less time with loved ones. That's 4.3 percent of the total! That's "many"? The paper also reported that one-third of regular Internet users spend less time reading newspapers. Hello: Most people I know read a variety of news sources online daily. I get the Times and several weeklies in paper form -- but I sure don't waste money subscribing to the 10-second local dailies (G, you know who you are.) Might as well save paper.

Time to pass "go" again: We do not have to choose sides in the tech wars. It's OK to use the Internet -- and to turn it off and have sex, visit a boutique, savor the deliciousness of a well-worn book. Enough hysterical hype, already. A little common sense will suffice.

-- E-mail comments to donna@shutup101.com.

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