A few weeks ago, two of my friends lamented about the fact that their kids seem to spend all their time playing video games and on Instagram and Facebook. They remembered how we grew up – spending time with friends, discovering the world around us and getting into trouble.
It made me think of the world that has been created by the internet. Yes, a world. A Virtual World. Very different from the brick-and-mortar world in which we live. It is in this Virtual Wolrd that a lot of teenagers and young adults live and spend their time. It may sound exciting, full of new and challenging possibilities but it is still virtual.
A lot of people have gotten extremely wealthy building this world. It has greatly enhanced our lives to a degree but it carries with it it’s own risks and perils too. I don’t want to dwell on the security risks inherent and which have been made apparent lately by the myriad data breaches. Rather, I want to touch on the issue of the psyche of a teenager or young adult who’s spends most of his time in this virtual world.
Back in the day, when there was no internet, children went OUT to play with other children. You talked to other children face-to-face. Friendships were created that could last a lifetime. You observed the environment you lived in. You saw how people spoke, carried themselves and dealt with challenges. If there was a fight on the playground, you saw the real violent interaction. No one could really make false claims because they had to back it up. You grew up in reality and you learnt to deal with it. That ultimately prepared you for the real world out there, which can be rather unforgiving.
Fast forward to today. Children, teenagers and some young adults have retreated to a world where one “friends” people they have never ever met. All they have to go by is profile they cannot verify and a picture that might not even of the real person. They hear claims that may be unfounded and are forced to compare themselves to people and situations that could be trumped up and non-existent. Chou and Edge published a study 2012 that looked at this issue. At Utah Valley State, they looked at about 425 frequent users of Facebook. Below is a quote from the study: “The multivariate analysis indicated that those who have used Facebook longer agreed more that others were happier, and agreed less that life is fair, and those spending more time on Facebook each week agreed more that others were happier and had better lives. Furthermore, those that included more people whom they did not personally know as their Facebook “friends” agreed more that others had better lives.” In other words, one is measuring the quality of their lives against claims made by people they’ve never seen or met or even spoken to. They are accepting the virtual as reality!
These hours are not only spent on social network sites but also playing video games which have been linked to violence. Craig Anderson has some fact on that here.
Then is the little issue of lack of movement and it’s links to obesity, a condition that has reached epidemic proportions in the US.
Which begs the questions – are these kids, teenagers and young adults going to be ready for the real world? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe they are going to convert the real world into a likeness of the virtual one. Then, I guess all those hours would have paid off. For my part though, I don’t want someone to just “like” me in a virtual world. I prefer my “likes” to be real and come with hugs, a listening ear and the occasional shoulder.
1. Chou HT, Edge N. “They are happier and having better lives than I am”: the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives. Cyberpsychol Behav Soc Netw Feb 2102
2. Craig Anderson. Violent Video Games: Myths, Facts, and Unanswered Questions. www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2003/10/anderson.aspx