Technology changes how we live our lives, and the Internet is obviously no different. However, many aspects of Internet use may actually be changing how we behave offline. So what can the Internet do to you? Let's find out together.
Makes You Depressed
If you've ever looked at a conversation on reddit and thought “This makes me lose all hope for humanity,” then kudos! You're a statistic!
A two year study by Carnegie Mellon University concluded that regular web users were more prone to feelings of loneliness and depression. The results were quite surprising because those studied were encourage to still use e-mail, chat rooms and sites requiring social input as much as they wanted to. Despite some doing nothing but socializing, many reported feelings of sadness and isolation.
The problem, researchers believe, is that as people spent more time online they were less likely to spend time with family and friends (duh), which lead to more time being spent online. Despite getting regular social interaction in cyberspace they lacked the same interaction in the real world. The relationships being forged online weren't as deep as preexisting relationships, leaving web users feeling unfulfilled.
This also plays into the addictive nature of web surfing, which has proven itself to be dangerous many, many times before.
Makes You Stupid (Maybe)
This one comes with a big asterisk, but those Goons might be right in saying that the Internet is gradually making each and every one of us stupid.
It's thought to come from a few places. First, think about the how quickly you can access information thanks to things like search engines. Yes, you certainly have a wider access to information in the digital age and thus have a wider opportunity to educate yourself, but the speed of this access may be affecting short term memory. The amount of time we put into memorizing something may play a role in how the brain stores that information. If you spend a great deal of time bouncing from site to site and taking in as much as possible, there's a solid chance you'll only retain a small amount of it.
This also has an effect on our attention spans, which may in turn affect how much time and effort we're willing to put into tasks in meatspace. Many bloggers report that they've found themselves struggling to read actual books since dedicating time to the web. What's more, a five year study in the U.K. shows regular web use may promote readers to skim texts.
Computers themselves aren't changing how we process information. But many features of digital information, like the ease of access to different information and the ability to bounce easily between sites, could be changing the way we process the information.
Opens Up Our Sexuality
Here's a revelation we're sure you'll find shocking: one in every ten websites contains some sort of erotic content. If you were to listen to the old media or old people you may find the number surprisingly low, but the Internet itself simply isn't bursting at the seams with pornography. To reference an earlier point, if you find that the Internet is riddled with girl-on-girl action, that simply means you know where to find it. Also, you're a pervert. That isn't to say that the web is somehow under stocked with the erotic arts, but it's not something you're very likely to stumble into accidentally.
But back to the point. With every media there's discussion of overexposure to sexually explicit material and with the Internet doubly so, thanks in part to flimsy parental controls. However, in the adult world a sort of liberation has been observed by researchers who claim that people are being more open and frank when discussing sex in the Western world, especially with women. Some contribute this to the easy access to pornography, a potentially important key in sexual development. Print media has a very small market for female-oriented pornography within the industry. This changes online, however, partly due to user generated content and partly due to the ability to better specify what kind of smut you're looking for.
Makes Men (Kind Of) Impotent
In the 80s and early 90s, well before the digital age, there was a widespread fear that as pornography became increasingly common the attitude of men towards women would more and more reflect porn until women were completely objectified and society simply accepted this base behavior as the norm. The fear was certainly in the right place in that porn did become the media's Zubat in terms of how common it has become, but the outcome is arguable.
One researcher has found that men who regularly view or are addicted to porn find women they meet to be less desirable sexually, and despite the addiction makes men less sexually active. For all the benefits that access to sexual content may be giving us, it may very well be killing our sex at the same time. On the upside, free porn.
That's to say nothing of the effect it's having on young women. The same article suggests that college-aged women feel less desirable because they feel they can't compete with the image of porn stars. Whether this, in turn, leads to more girls going in to porn to boost their self-esteem is the subject of our collective graduate thesis (for which funding and volunteer opportunities are still available!)
Makes You Irresponsible
This one is pretty common and easily spotted. Go to any news website that allows commenting and dig through the comment section. In most instances you should be able to find people saying pretty outlandish things or attacking each other over differences in opinions.
“But that's to be expected,” you say, “People get passionate about these things.” Okay, that's a fair point. Go to YouTube and check out any popular video. You'll likely find the same thing.
There's an element of anonymity on the Internet that allows us to step outside of what we know to be socially acceptable behavior and put on our asshole hats instead. Because you're just a user name and a small .jpeg on most of these websites, there's virtually nothing identifying you as you. Because of this people are more willing to start arguments and attack each other over the slightest offenses, like taste in music videos.
Yet despite what we'd like to think, this attitude doesn't always carry over into the real world. While some would like to have you believe people who walk into forums and start flame wars are intensely self-loathing individuals, the truth is that it could quite literally be anyone who has simply decided to flip their bitch switch after logging on.
Recently there's been an effort to cut down anonymity online and curb this bad behavior. Many sites that allow comments now require you to sign in with Facebook or similar services, for example. The immediate effects of this remain to be see, though on the surface it would seem that this just allows people to call each other libtarded douchebags by name. Maybe not a step in the right direction.