Digital Suicide

Posted on September 16, 2010

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It is an interesting idea that, for those whose lives have been lived out online, disconnection is being talked about in terms of digital suicide.

Interesting, but melodramatic in the extreme.

Addiction of any kind is going to be difficult to shake off and, as clinics in the US are seeing, treating people who have traditionally spent 30-40 hours a week online is tough – but the withdrawal symptoms are not necessarily any different to withdrawal from other addictions.

If you are heavily active [on the internet], by disconnecting you are losing a significant relationship. Those 30 or 40 hours of time now have to be filled with real life.

What is interesting is the assumption that those 30-40 hours have in some way replaced more meaningful social interaction.  A more fulfilling “real life.”  Sadly, that is not necessarily true.

Bowling Alone explored the trend towards a disintegration of US social fabric and a collective loss of social capital in the latter half of the twentieth century.  Published pre-Facebook, Twitter, Google et. al, in it Putnam asks whether social interaction online has the capacity to at least re-introduce some form of social engagement, even if it won’t recreate physical social interaction (though it can aid it.)

I, for one, would love to know what he thinks ten years on.

This kind of article on social media is pretty standard, but it assumes that those 30-40 hours “wasted” on social networking by most people would otherwise be used in a “more productive” way – perhaps reading,  playing sport, baking or gardening in some kind of dream community only ever seen in the 1950s or on Channel 4.

Actually, they would, in all likelihood, have been spent watching TV and eating high calorie foods.  What it does highlight, however, is that for any article suggesting that something is terrible, evil and destroying our children, we would do well to ask what would the actual alternative be, and is it really better?

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