Digital Dark Side

digital

 My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; Proverbs 3:21

 I have become increasingly concerned with the next generation’s obsession with things digital.  I posted on one aspect of this called FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) some time ago, and have made other comments on some of the not-so-good side effects, particularly on boys. Another one of my posts entitled “Critical Thinking” touched on the decline on the ability of the next generation to think critically instead of relying on answers that they can look up online.

One of those side effects is the impact on “gaming” which is more a problem for boys than for girls. By gaming, I am talking about playing various games on different platforms like a computer, cellphone, iPad or even Xbox developed by Microsoft. The games can be played via Apps on your phone.

We are seeing boys beginning to lag behind girls significantly in their vocabulary and education.  As noted in a prior post, children in middle school today possess a vocabulary of only 10,000 words, down from 25,000 just ten years ago. Boys tend to be bigger consumers of playing games digitally.

The next generation (Generation Z, and iY) are those who have grown up with touch pad devices in their hands – either a cell phone or an iPad or something else.  They were all born after 1990.  The first of these are now going to college, and many of them haven’t read a book, but instead have listened to them on audiobooks.com.

This generation is much more graphically oriented in their learning.  They are used to pictures to help describe what is going on.  In fact, for this reason, I have a picture attached to each of my posts which generally is graphic depiction of my topic in some way.

More recently though, some of the more negative aspects of the impact of the digital world is emerging, and some of them are disturbing.  One of these is that there are now 8 new mental illnesses brought to you by the internet.  According to Evin Dashevsky, writing in PC World, these disorders, which range from the “benign to destructive”, have just been recognized recently and didn’t even exist in the middle 1990’s.

Some of these are variations of older disorders.  While some may be familiar with FOMO, one of these new disorders is called “Nomophobia” which is a fear of not having access to your mobile phone (either it crashed, you lost power, or it was lost or stolen).

The condition can be severe as the PC World magazine article notes: “[T]he condition has found its way into the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and has prompted a dedicated Nomophobia treatment program at Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, California.”

Another condition is called Cybersickness which results in physical symptoms like nausea and dizziness caused by interacting with things like virtual reality and other use of mobile apps. The next is called “Facebook Depression” which may be descriptive enough that you can figure out what the symptoms look like. It comes from the despair that accompanies one watching everyone else have more fun and lead more successful lives than yours.

The next two are described as addictions: “Internet Addiction Disorder” and “Online Gaming Disorder”.  The former is descriptive of such an extraordinary use of the internet that it interferes with your daily life.  The latter is limited to an unhealthy need to be online playing multiplayer games.

With the internet, medical information not otherwise available about medicine is now readily available.  It is leading to users to have something called “Cyberchondria” where one is led to believe they have diseases that they found online.  Sites like WebMD give enormous amounts of information, resulting in people who may have a simple headache become concerned that it might be a brain tumor.

The last disorder is one that I am most concerned about based on what I’ve been learning recently. It’s called the “Google Effect”.  It describes the condition that our brains are declining in the ability to retain facts or information as before because it can be found online via a search engines like Google or Bing.

As a result, our brains are changed and we no longer have the ability to retain information as much as prior generations. The number of searches on Google has grown from 9,800 in 1998 to 4.7 trillion today. Since we now have nearly all the information of ever created by civilization at our fingertips, our brain functions may be altering how and what we retain.

A recent study confirms this. The study used two groups and gave each of them the same questions, only one group could look up the answers on Google and the other could not. Later, they redid the exercise, only this time they reversed the groups so that the group that had used Google to get the answers had to answer without that aid. In the second exercise, the group that had used Google originally were unable to remember their answers from the first exercise.

In effect, people have started using Google instead of their brains to store information. Unfortunately, as one writer notes, our brains use information stored in our brains in order to “facilitate critical thinking.”

The first time I encountered what is called the Google Effect was in talking with a lawyer who did complex litigation.  He said that he had a mind like a bathtub.  He said that when he prepared for a case, he filled his mind with all the necessary and complex facts, stats and data until he had filled his brain up to the brim.

Once the case was over, he pulled the plug and drained his mind just like a bathtub so he could prepare for his next case. He said he had gotten so good at it that if you asked him about the facts of a case several months later, he often couldn’t remember. That’s an older version of the Google Effect.

In his book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Tranceauthor Dr. Nicholas Kardaras likens the addictive effect on young children as being the same as Digital Heroin. He has observed young children going through signs of withdrawal when denied the access to digital devices, including tantrums as if they were digital junkies.

Before I leave this topic, I would be remiss in not mentioning the addiction to pornography, which studies now show has an impact on the brain (see video below).  To give you an idea of how prevalent online pornography is, one should understand that studies in this area have been made difficult due to a lack of participants who have not been involved with online pornography.

To do a study, there is a control group that does not have the issue (i.e. has not been involved in pornography) which will then be compared with a group of users of pornography. Until recently, they have not been able to find sufficient young adults who have not been involved with pornography to conduct a study. Pornography is every man and woman’s issue in the next generation.

Marvin Brubacher (one of my mentor colleagues) says that when he is begins mentoring a younger man or teaching a mentoring seminar, a mentor “needs to probe deep into the life of his mentee concerning this issue as well as a person’s engagement with God”. “The two issues are connected yet mutually exclusive in every case.”

He goes on to say that “they (digital addiction to gaming or pornography) are “connected because the practice of one keeps one from the practice of the other; they are mutually exclusive because they can’t be mutual passions in one’s life.”

Heady stuff, and some of it scary since these disorders are new, or at least variations of older disorders.  For mentors, it means that are likely to encounter someone in the next generation who has more than just a mild interaction with the internet or the digital world. As Marvin Brubacher suggests, if that interaction results in addictive behavior, a mentor needs to be able to identify it and help them through it, or at least direct them to counseling.

To mentor the next generation, one needs to understand them.  Now, that understanding includes learning about emotional or addictive behaviors which are novel and new. Ryan Terrance put it this way: “Everything in moderation, and there’s a perfect balance in this life if we can find it.”  What these new behaviors show that is that there is a dark side to the digital world that the next generation is plugged in to.

Our challenge as mentors and parents is to help the next generation navigate a safe route with the digital world and urge moderation in their use.  Digital obsession really does have consequences, and many of them are damaging.

MENTOR TAKEAWAY:  Be aware that the next generation is playing with fire, only, unlike fire, it doesn’t give off a warning through heat which they can feel. As mentors, you need to be asking your mentees about their digital footprint to be sure they aren’t crossing over to the dark side.

FURTHER STUDY: For 100,000 books you can download on Audio Books, go to http://www.audiobooks.com

Classification of Internet Addiction as a disorder:  https://www.rt.com/news/internet-use-mental-illness-389/

Eight New Disorders caused by the digital age: http://www.pcworld.com/article/2054386/eight-new-mental-illnesses-brought-to-you-by-wait-for-it-the-internet.html

For articles on the Google Effect: http://academicearth.org/electives/internet-changing-your-brain/

An article on Digital Heroin: http://miami.cbslocal.com/2017/03/03/doc-claims-too-much-screen-time-turns-kids-into-digital-junkies/

For the effects of pornography on the brain:  http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/your-brain-on-porn-series

WORSHIP:  Listen to “Healer” by Hillsong which reminds us that nothing is impossible with God:

COMMENT:  I would be delighted at comments on this or any other post. You can comment by clicking on the icon at the top of the page, or emailing me at otterpater@nc.rr.com.

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