NELSON, B.C. — Humans are drowning in a technological information flood so enveloping that it will take decades to decipher the socio-psychological implications, says a Canadian college educator and author.
“The stage is set for winners and losers, but some of the negative outfall may surprise people,” predicts Steve Bareham, a management communication instructor in the School of Hospitality & Tourism at Selkirk College. One of the unanticipated consequences of our new super connected world is something he calls online obsessive compulsive disorder (OOCD).
“The Internet gives individuals unprecedented power to communicate, and that would seem purely good, but cracks are forming. Anyone with eyes can see obsessive behavior in people with virtual umbilical cords tethered 24/7 to communication devices.”
Bareham cites a 2012 study from Chicago University’s Booth Business School claiming that people find it harder to resist the urge to log on to Facebook than to say no to cigarettes or alcohol.
“The Chicago study suggests that social networking is powerful partly because it’s free and easy. While that sounds harmless, in classrooms we see behavior that is far from benign. Anticipation of the next message distracts students minute-by-minute from their focus on career and academics. Cell phones are routinely left on so students can constantly monitor incoming. I suspect the reward is a tiny endorphin hit each time a message reaffirms their place in a cyber network.”
His observation has support in studies revealing that obsession with phones and social networking is so powerful that many millions of people can’t resist checking devices several dozen times a day.
“A study by SecurEnvoy, a company concerned with mobile phone technology, found that people checked mobile phones 34 times a day on average. They coined the condition ‘nomophobia,’ fear of being without a cell phone, and it’s strong enough that many people take them into the bathroom for fear of missing calls.
“I have no doubt about the 34 cell phone checks number, but now add Facebook checks and email checks and I’m sure that number soars to 60 plus. That’s classic pathological obsessive compulsion. If important matters were involved, or if substantive information was being exchanged, the preoccupation would be understandable, but often it’s mindless trivia yet still it apparently can’t be resisted.”
He notes that the desperate need to feel connected isn’t the only danger.
“The potential also exists for anxiety among psychologically fragile people who at first may feel empowered but who may then sense being drowned out, ignored, disappointed and rejected if communication overtures aren’t reciprocated.”
Bareham says the Internet had about 16 million global users in 1996—just 16 years ago.
“Today, about 2.5 billion people, about one-third of the world’s seven billion inhabitants, ply the World Wide Web, making it the most rapid and meaningful uptake of technology in history, more significant than the wheel, the television and even Gutenberg’s printing press. From the perspective of realizing Marshall McLuhan’s vision of a global village, that’s a good thing, but his additional premise about the medium being the message sets the stage for some very bad things.
“We may think we’re focused on the content of the Internet medium, but as McLuhan warned, we may be missing important psycho-structural changes that are taking place beneath the surface.
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