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Jewish World Review
Jan. 10, 2007
/ 20 Teves, 5767
The Dark Side of the Internet
I like the Internet. I use the Internet. I do more than half my shopping on the Internet. I have a website. I read most newspapers online. I know how to use a computer as well as most and better than some. So what is it about the so-called "online community" that worries me so? Why do I have a dark feeling about its impact on the next generation?
Let's start with the fact there is no "community" online. A community has houses and shops and schools and churches. It has places where people interact eye-to-eye. It's where you know who your friends are, and they know you. It's where you can shake a man's hand and take his measure. It's where you can turn to someone you trust in troubled times, and lend a hand to a neighbor.
The online version of community, on the other hand, is made up of millions of faceless screen names behind which people hide. It thrives on the kind of anonymity which brings out the worst in so many. It allows its users to sit in darkened rooms for hours on end while they pretend to be social. It's never having to really meet someone, have a real conversation or interact on a human level.
Most Internet users, of course, are not drawn into this nameless, faceless virtual world. They chat with their friends and do their homework and listen to music and research term papers. But for a growing number of young people, the Internet has become a place to hide from the real world. Support groups are springing up to help parents deal with children who have become recluses, even as they form a wider ring of online "friends".
Millions of man-hours are being lost as companies pay their workers to surf mindlessly or troll around various chatrooms. Relationships are torn apart as easily-available Internet pornography comes to dominate lives. Like fantasy sports, a frightening number of people are living fantasy lives. It's as if the invisible friends many young children create have become as real as the ever-beckoning keyboard of their laptop.
Ironically, you can use the Internet to find organizations which deal with Internet addiction. On at least one of them, the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery , you can take a quick test to see if you are an addict or are heading down that road.
The Internet has some wonderful possibilities in terms of spreading information and ideas and, ultimately, freedom around the globe, but it also poses the danger of creating a generation of users who are more comfortable sitting in front of a glowing screen talking with strangers than they are in dealing with the reality outside their doors.
It would be tragic if this technology, with the potential to open up the world, ended up enclosing all of us behind individual walls.
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JWR contributor Pat Sajak is the recipient of three Emmys, a Peoplesí Choice Award and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He's currently the host of Wheel of Fortune.
© 2007, Pat Sajak