Well, that’s what you would think from a quick search in the popular press and even in some serious sources. The internet is forcing us to do all sort of harmful things apparently. We have no free choice, we are at the mercy of the evil empire known as ‘the Internet’. What are the myths and what are the facts? For example.
Myth: Social networking sites damage people’s health by keeping people apart.
Facts: There are lots of people who increase the level of contact with friends by having conversations and sharing information online as well as face to face. There are lots of people who maintain online contact with geographically distant friends and relatives, to a much greater extent than they would if they relied on letters and phone calls. The same can be said of work colleagues. There’s no health harm in this. There are also some people who find face to face contact difficult. Without the internet they would avoid it. With the internet it’s possible to hide behind an invented persona, or avoid contact through using online shopping and administration sites. That’s not the fault of a piece of technology. It’s about the way we allow the social structure to evolve. Technology may intensify the effect but it’s not the cause.
Go back a little while and you can see similar pieces written about gaming and before that about television. They were blamed for sucking people in to unreal worlds. As with social networking, they can provide situations which allowed a blurring of the distinction between real and fantasy worlds. So do books and stories. That’s a reflection of the richness of the human imagination. Some people lack the ability to keep a foot in the real world and, for good or for bad, some of the content on the internet provides an enticing alternative existence. The problem sits partly with the weakness of the individual and partly with the willingness of others to exploit such weakness. The technology is merely a conduit. And the people who blame technology have lost touch with the facts in exactly the same way.