Depression and the Internet?, Hand-written vs. Emailed, and The Future

I saw this article on a possible link between depression and “excessive” internet usage.

The study, reported in the journal Psychopathology, found 1.2% of people surveyed were “internet addicts”. The internet addicts were significantly more depressed than the non-addicted group, with a depression score five times higher.

“Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, pointed out that, in some ways, the internet can be helpful.

He said: “To the extent that the internet encourages meaningful friendships and social connections it can be a very good influence on people’s lives.

‘However, social interaction online should not usually replace an offline social life…'”

I, like everyone else who is not an “internet addict”, agree with that last statement. But why? It’s interesting, and undeniable after some thought, that saying this – that an “internet life” should not replace a “real, in-the-world life” is to say that there’s something important about being embodied, that there’s something important and valuable about being in-the-world, and connected to the material realm, that a good life needs some connection to the world of matter, that mere information and synthesized experience isn’t enough.

How does that deeply-ingrained belief jive with, for instance, the fact that none of us hand-writes letters any more? We consistently opt for emails and text messages over the hand-written version. In doing so, it seems that we’re making the statement that it’s not so much the form (the material reality), but the content (the information) that we value. So, is this inconsistent? If so, which value will ultimately win out? If we really value form (our material existence in-the-world), we will soon have to start making some reactive changes to how we do life in a technologized world. If we value content (which, I imagine, is more the case), within fifty years, I’ll make the call that the majority of the first-world will spend the majority of their waking hours in virtual reality, and a visible, though strong, minority of them will be in meaningful personal relationships with machines.

  1. #1 by Corey Scogin on 2.3.10 - 12.28 am

    This isn’t in regard to the point you’re making but I think that this article (or at least this piece of the article) makes the assumption that it is the lack of ‘real’ social interaction that is causing the depression. I submit that it could be something else like the lack of physical exercise by those who are addicted to the internet.

  2. #2 by Michael Glawson on 2.16.10 - 9.31 pm

    That sounds pretty plausible to me. I would hope that, in setting up the experiment, they would try to isolate for those sorts of variables. They might not have been that smart though.

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