Gaining the Whole World Wide Web without Losing Our Souls
The people of Sweden are the "best" in the world at using the Internet. That's according to a five-year study conducted by the World Wide Web Foundation, which recently released its findings.
What does it mean to be "best" at using the Internet? It's an interesting question in light of this summer's warnings from Silicon Valley elites to put down the smartphones and step away from our computers. They worry, as many others (who were largely dismissed as hopelessly out of touch) have worried for years, that they may have created a monster. Turns out they have discovered for themselves that Internet use demands moderation. Among the dangers they've identified are "people's inability to disengage" and the need to "help them slow down and disconnect."
Tech professionals aren't the only ones waking up to the Internet's destructive powers. In the updated edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), to be released next year, an appendix will include a description of "Internet use disorder." Being included in the definitive reference for mental-health professionals often serves as a precursor to eventual listing as an official diagnosable condition, a move the American Psychological Association appears to have been considering since 1996.
The Web Foundation's study measured countries according to their Web accessibility and the percentage of the total population, as well as specific groups, using the Internet. It also considered issues of freedom and government interference as well as how broadly the Internet is used for various purposes. It did not include questions about our mental and emotional health, and what's good for our souls.
Given the consequences we are seeing in U.S. society—which ranked number two, by the way—we might reconsider these measurements. As the tech executives expressed, "the lure of constant stimulation—the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates—is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions." In other words, one of the greatest personal productivity tools ever invented is undermining personal productivity. And the most powerful avenue for communication and social connection hurts our social connections.
Why? On the surface, it doesn't really follow that the Internet should hurt us in the very places it promises to help. Perhaps the answer is in the virtual, staged, and low-risk nature of our interactions online. We engage people and ideas in a space where relational dynamics and consequences are very different from those in the physical world. However friendly we may feel toward our global neighbors, we can't reach out and touch them. The Internet can introduce us to anyone, but it can't help us fully know them.
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