Computers and Internet are two main technologies that have revolutionized our lives in many aspects. The number of benefits these two technologies can have for humanity is too great to count. Through the Internet the world has become one click away from us. As they are the most enthusiastic and energetic sector of any society, young people are the ones who uses their computers to access the Internet heavily. Tempted by the variety of ideas and options available through them on the Internet, many young people spend hours either navigating the Internet in search for ideas, products, or any other item, or chatting online with their friends or even strangers. As such, young people can spend hours online without feeling bored or tired. This long time on the Internet is actually taken from the time that those young people may have spent with other people, experiencing real social interaction. There are various scientists who realize that "today, people spend more time using communication technology than they did twenty years ago" (Degord). Consequently, a heated debate has started to emerge about the possible negative effects of the Internet on the social interaction of young people. While some analysts undermine the effects that may be caused by the long time spent online, there are others who raise a serious warning about the deterioration of physical social interaction because of online activities. Despite the numerous benefits of the Internet, it can seriously hurt the physical communication process among young people, minimize social interaction, and push young people to live in isolation.
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The Internet has revolutionized people's lives in many positive ways. For young people, the Internet is an open window to the world, where they can do a variety of activities from the comfort of their own homes. Reading books and newspapers, searching for information about any topic, and involving in important discussions on billboards and newsgroups are some of the important activities young people can do online. Professor Thomas B. Riley, from the School of Law, University of Glasgow, argues that "the Internet is a revolutionary medium that has afforded the opportunity for millions of people to open themselves to a rich panoply of information and services" (Riley). In that sense, the Internet has become an important source of information for people. It enlightens navigators about any issue they research. If used adequately and insightfully, the Internet can widen the scope of knowledge for you people and prepare them for their future careers in life.
Google and other search engines help people find the information they need easily and comfortably. A researcher now does not have to consult numerous books and encyclopedias. Instead, the Internet provides the researcher with a huge amount of information, from which one can select what he wants and identify and what is irrelevant. However, due to this huge amount of information, people feel overwhelmed because of the difficulty they face while trying to find the relevant and reliable information. For instance, in "Is Google Making US Stupid?," Nicholas Carr strongly accuses Google of making people over-dependent on the information they get from the Internet and less able to spend time reading and analyzing information from books and researches. While the ease with which one can get information via the Internet may be a huge advantage, yet, the search for authentication and reliability of information may be a real problem that faces researchers and navigators. This huge amount of information have turned most researchers and navigators into mere skimmers, who read just few lines of every article or essay they find in order to find the information they need quickly. Hence, the Internet, especially Google as well as some other search engines, have changed people's reading pattern in a negative way. This is recognized by Nicholas Carr, who comments that "the deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle." In that sense, Carr succeeded in identifying the problem that face people due to the excessive dependence on the Internet in finding information. Instead of being a helper to people, the Internet has negatively changed the way people used to think and use their minds in reading and analyzing information. Like most other media tools, the Internet has not only enriched people's thoughts, but it also affected their thoughts. This is expressed clearly by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who pointed out in the 1960s that "media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought". Thus, the claim about the possible negative effect of the Internet on people's minds is valid.
However, the overuse of the Internet by young people minimizes physical social interaction and promotes isolation and loneliness. Young people who spend hours and hours chatting with other online users over the Internet are not actually enhancing their social experiences (Snook). That's because they do not physically interact with other people and involve themselves in real life situations; rather, all what they do is to sit alone in front of their computers, using their fingers to type what they want to tell. Attempting to insightfully describe the relationship between a young person and his computer, Professor Riley refer to it as young people "connect with other people in cyberspace but, often as not;" so, he argues that the Internet "is a solitary medium engaged in by an individual sitting alone in front of a terminal, removed from the experience of group interaction" (Riley). In fact, there is a reverse relationship between the time spent on the computer and that spent in real life social interaction. Various international studies concluded that the more time a young person spends online, the less time this person will spend in real life social interactions (McInnerney, J. M., & Roberts). The result is that heavy online users will turn into isolated and self centered beings, unable to interact actively in their societies. Consequently, the Internet is actually taking young people from their physical social networking into a virtual world when they cannot interact face-to-face with other people.
Isolation and loneliness are two of the serious negative effects of some modern technological devices on social interaction. Traditionally, people used to engage in conversations, meetings and other forms of interaction, to exchange feelings, ideas, and concepts. In fact, most modern social studies concluded that "today, people spend more time using communication technology than they did twenty years ago" (Degord). This increase in the time spent with technological devices takes from the time individuals used to socialize. For example, instead of going out with some of his friends for fun and socialization, a young individual now may prefer to sit by his own computer and virtually talk with some other people over the Internet. While this may help individuals make new friendships from all over the world, it yet deprives those individual of the real experience they can get from the face-to-face interaction with other people. Accordingly, the time spent on the use of these technologies affects the way one interacts with other people. In this context, Jaron Lanier, in his book which is entitled You are Not a Gadget, asserts that he fears that “we are beginning to design ourselves to suit digital models of us, and I worry about a leaching of empathy and humanity in that process” (Lanier). Therefore, the more time one spends on the Internet, the less he interacts with his family and friends.
In addition, when young people spend an excessive time in the Internet, their communication abilities are affected negatively. A successive communication among people is the one that involves many aspects, such as physical talking and exchanging opinions, experiencing eye-contact, and knowing about gestures and body language. All these aspects are almost lacking in online chatting. This would bring up people who are not good at physical communication with people around them, and may be turn up being hostile and anti-social persons. In an article which is entitled Electronic Communication: Implications for Human Interaction and Social Change Natalie Hanson claims that "communication with strangers and the lack of face-to-face accountability in computer-mediated communication will lead to increasingly hostile exchanges" (Hanson). One of the areas which are currently witnessing less communication because of the Internet is education. Many young people around the world prefer to try to experience a distance learning instead of the traditional educational approach in classrooms. However, this new form of learning may deprive those young people of an opportunity to physically communicate with students and teachers. Hence, they would not be able to create intimate relationships with other, as they would have if they were learning through the traditional classroom (McInnerney, J. M., & Roberts). In that sense, the Internet is actually giving people less opportunities to communicate, leading to a new form of social suffering. As noted by young online users themselves, "human interaction has suffered even in the last year because of the effects that technology has had on the way people communicate" (Hall). Therefore, young people should decrease the time they spend online in order to give themselves an opportunity to enhance their communication abilities in physical social situations.
Actually, many studies showed that there is a big difference between virtual interaction brought about by technological devices and physical face-to-face interaction. Although both involve talking, chatting and exchanging information, face-to-face interaction involves emotions, feelings, and experience more than virtual interaction. For example, while two individuals are engaged in face-to-face conversation, each one can observe the reaction of the words on the facial expressions of the other, unlike a virtual online conversation, in which the participants can not anticipate the effect of the typed words on one another. As shown by Ola Degord, in her article entitled Telecommunications and social interaction - Social constructions in virtual space, "interaction with less face-to-face contact between transmitter and receiver renders less social information" (Degord). Besides, other studies have pointed out to the fact that isolation and loneliness, caused by lack of face-to-face social interaction, may lead to the spread of violence and animosity among people. Natalie Hanson, in her article Electronic Communication: Implications for Human Interaction and Social Change declares that "communication with strangers and the lack of face-to-face accountability in computer-mediated communication will lead to increasingly hostile exchanges" (Hanson). That's because there are high chances of misunderstanding among the participants in virtual online conversations due to the lack of facial interaction. Thus, lack of physical social interaction can bear serious threats for the society. In this regard, Dr. Sherry Turkle argues that “we are witnessing a new form of sociality in which the connectedness that ‘matters’ is determined by our distance from working communications technology” (Turkle). Thus, it can be said that computer devices and some modern technological tools decreases the chances that people are engaged in face-to-face-interaction. This actually deepens the feelings of isolation and loneliness within societies. For example, teens who physically live with their parents in the same house may have minimal social interactions with them due to the excessive use of computers and other devices, such as walkmans and iPods. While a young person may be physically sitting with his parents, brothers and sisters in the same room, he may have been turning on a walkman and putting the headphones in his ears, making no chance to listen to anything or engage in a conversation with his parents. This may eliminate the possibility that parents can fully understand the opinions and feelings of their children, who prefer to live in the worlds of their own. As a result, devices such as walkmans and iPods are banned in some social places, such as schools, in some countries such as Australia (Orlowski). The banning of these devices aims at increasing the space for face-to-face interaction among people, especially young individuals.
Consequently, most studies warn societies about the negative effects modern technologies have on social interaction. As a result, efforts should be done to encourage people to be more social with each other. Beside the cases of banning of technologies such as walkmans and iPods in schools, other measures can be applied also. For example, there should be an increase in the social activities in schools and athletic clubs in order to give young people the chance to interact with one another and be more social. Also, cell-phones should not be given to young kids in schools in order not to get young people used to the technological devices that deprive them of social interaction. Lastly, it should be noted that critical thinking and analytical studies should be carefully applied to modern technologies that turn people to be more isolated and less sociable. Examples of the new technological trends that make people more closely related to technology and far from the society are the distance education that depends only on the computers and the Internet rather than on the traditional education environment. That's why social thinkers, such as Ola Degord openly declares that "to support social interaction like education through electronic media, it is crucial that the social information, the roles, and the pedagogics are reflected in the application and the technology" (Degord). That is to say, more chances for physical social interaction should be given to students during their learning process.
In conclusion, despite the numerous positive effects of the Internet, it has many disadvantages in the areas of human social interaction and communication. Young people are becoming more able to use their hands in typing than to use their mouths in talking and their gestures in communicating in body language. This will lead to less-sociable people, who are hostile and isolated in their societies. Accordingly, one should not be blinded about the ill-effects of any technology when it is misused or over-used. This is applicable to the Internet too, as it is a medium which can be extremely beneficial if it is wisely used, and at the same time it can be dangerous if it used without discretion. Finally, young people should be adequately warned about the negative consequences of their online experiences in order for them to give some time for their physical social networking.
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