By Max Miller – Staff Writer – firstname.lastname@example.org
When Google finds it financially viable to create a product that allows people to wear the Internet on their faces, it is clear our culture’s tech obsession has evolved into a tech addiction.
Last week, Internet junkies worldwide were withheld the metaphorical smack when a distributed denial-of-service attack on a major spam-blocking network inadvertently slowed down web traffic on major sites like Facebook. When coupled with news of American Express’s online banking being taken offline for two hours by foreign cyberattacks, it is necessary we assess the implications of the Internet being severely crippled or even shut down.
While such an event would most pressingly hurt government communications and global commerce, average users would more likely freak out because they suddenly cannot update their Tumblrs.
It is difficult to imagine a world without the Internet. It has changed the way our culture treats almost everything, from watching television to socializing. It has affected the global economy and has been a boon for corporations and independent entrepreneurs alike.
But there is evidence that Internet usage has become harmful to our culture, especially in social networking circles.
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr give users self-esteem problems. This is not in the words of some out-of-the-loop psychologist observing behavior from afar. In a large group of social network users polled in the United Kingdom, half of the participants claimed to have experienced anxiety due to scrutinizing the minutiae of friends and co-workers lives while simultaneously having their own lives open for judgment.
Too often we think of our online profiles as a very serious extension of who we are. One of the major differences between Facebook and its all-but-extinct precursor, MySpace, is that Facebook encourages you to identify yourself by your real name. While MySpace, with its tacky layouts and obnoxious music players, was more akin to a glitzy public diary, Facebook is treated more like a résumé, at least according to many employers who scour potential employees’ profiles for evidence of their lifestyles.
This mindset has corrupted the innocuous premise of social media. Suddenly it is not silly to worry about how many followers your friend has on Twitter when that kind of attention could mean he or she might gain a high-paying job. And being off the grid completely has become almost unthinkable. To succeed professionally, one is expected to maintain a healthy social media presence while still warding off the dangers of drunken snapshots or uncouth friends.
All of this pressure has been amplified throughout the past few years, and, as the self-esteem study indicates, the transition has been less than smooth for young people who grew up with the concept of social networks, let alone for older job-seekers forced to dive headfirst into the confusing world of Twitter and Facebook to keep afloat in the modern economic climate.
But what about the next generation of social network users who have never known a world before the Internet?
Although Facebook is not supposed to allow users under the age of 13 for legal privacy reasons, research has shown more than 7.5 million users are under 13, with 5 million of those users under 10. There are even parents who create Facebook accounts for their newborn children as if to chronicle their entire life on a profile page, a premise Facebook’s Timeline layout seems to encourage.
But allowing children to engage in the complex and increasingly mature world of social media can be harmful. In addition to the much-discussed problem of cyberbullying, children who are heavily engaged in social networking have an increased chance of developing anxiety issues and, ironically, antisocial personality disorder.
Children and adults alike are finding Internet usage has a negative impact on attention span. The effect is especially noticeable in kids, who have never been known for their laser-focused attentiveness in the first place. Researchers at California State University Dominguez Hills found middle school students who were asked to study for 15 minutes could only go two or three minutes without checking Facebook or sending a text message.
Additionally, students who were distracted by social media did worse overall on the exams they studied for.
The ubiquitous nature of social networking has grown out of control. When parents are unable to monitor their children’s Internet usage because they are too busy adorning their Twitter feeds with hashtags for maximum exposure, the medium clearly has a stranglehold on us that is so startling and unprecedented it could make Jerry Mander run out and hug a television set.
While no one should encourage the complete destruction of the Internet, perhaps more of these DDoS attacks will slow Facebook down to a snail’s pace and force users to forsake the networking and focus more on being social.