Feb. 29, 2000

Another Giant Leap for Mankind?

Headline on the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news website:

High Internet use leading to isolation: study

STANFORD, CALIF. - The Internet was supposed to help bring people closer together. But that's not quite the case, says a new study.

High Internet use has led to less time with family and friends and more hours working, said researchers from the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society (SIQSS).

Well I don't know why they needed a study to tell us that. Common sense: time in front of a computer is usually solitary. Physically, that is. What I'm not convinced of is which is the cause and which is the effect. Does the seductive glow of the monitor really take us away from actual, real-life, 3D people and experiences? Or does the internet attract people who are inclined to be solitary to begin with?

I am by nature a loner. It may have to do with growing up an only child, or maybe not.. my father and younger son are the same way. We enjoy being with a select group of people, those we really like, but prefer our own company otherwise. Before I went online I spent much of this time watching TV or doing crossword puzzles. I think that interacting with people online is more of a social activity than TV.

I've noticed that people, when first exposed to the internet, either take to it like they were born clutching a keyboard, or are totally indifferent. There isn't much in between. I fail to understand how Hubby, for instance, has this amazing resource in his very own home, but will. not. use. it. If he really needs something looked up, he asks one of us to do it. A close friend who moved to Ontario a few years ago recently went online, but neglects her email because "nobody writes to her."

I actually prefer email to the telephone, even for contacting local friends. The phone is an intrusion which demands immediate attention, like a crying baby. Email is communication on my terms, when I am ready to give it my undivided attention. I gladly trade the immediacy of the telephone for the civility of exchanging written messages.

The internet has the potential to bring people closer together, without a doubt. My son uses ICQ on a daily basis to keep up with classmates and friends who have moved to Toronto, Ottawa, and Florida. In any kind of internet community, whether chat, gaming, business, art, etc, people are interacting with people they would never have met otherwise, and are finding out that we really are more alike than different. The internet is the best argument against racism (and other prejudices) that has ever existed.

The fact that being online can and is being abused doesn't detract from its potential. An excess of just about anything is harmful.. why should this be any different?

As Internet use grew, respondents reported they spent less time with real people, and more time working for their employers at home without cutting back their hours in the office.

That sounds a bit strange to me. It can only mean that while people are at the office they're wasting time surfing the 'net, and have to catch up their work at home afterwards!

"The Internet could be the ultimate isolating technology that further reduces our participation in communities even more than did automobiles and television before it," said Professor Norman Nie, director of SIQSS

It could be. It could be that the definition of "community" will change. And it could be that most people will learn to take the good from both worlds and live richer lives with a global perspective.

Linque Du Jour: Leap Day!

An explanation of why we need it, from the Royal Observatory in Greenwich England, no less!

And a list of famous (and not-so famous) people with this rarest of birthdays.. along with a "this day in history" list.

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