Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Why is it Harmful to have a Discussion online

I recently had a fierce argument on facebook with one of my friends. The argument was over a mundane topic but I quickly got some insights into the harm such a discussion might have on your relationships.

Firstly, we all know that online addiction is very common. A recent study at Stanford has shown that mental abilities deteriorate because of multitasking (link). Humans have an evolutionary trait of automatically scanning the environment for information, but as that information increases, we start to overwhelm our minds which then leaves little room for anything else.

The information that is considered dangerous has one unique trait. It should appear to be random or as some say natural. Our brains at tuned to seek out things that are unique and don't fit a certain parameter. It quickly gets bored if it is fed the same information over and over again. The information needs to be new, no matter how irrelevant it is and should be unpredictable. Online newspapers, emails, social networking etc are therefore the most addictive as they contribute the most to this category of information. The more random the time interval the more addictive it is. The effects of such an activity last for some time and debilitates one's ability as it contains a lot of stressors. The accompanying stress lasts longer.

I will now explain why online communication is harmful. Firstly, humans communicate very little through writing or language itself. Although they are useful but body language i.e variations in tone, eye contact, body posture, face color etc contribute a lot to a normal discussion. If two people are in love, then you just know from their body language. If a person is angry then that is also visible. Online communication is emotionally dangerous. Online telephony or visual may be slightly better. Without the full signals, it is difficult to know when you are getting into a fight. It is easier to say negative things about others online then on their faces. Real discussions prevents a lot of negative stuff. People fighting online are a lot more vicious then in real. In real life, your mental thoughts are shielded by your bodies instincts which continuously predicts the other person's response and provides you with a feedback about what is appropriate. Online, there is no such feedback and your thoughts go through your laptop's keyboard without any feedback mechanism. I prefer to stay anonymous online, simply because i cannot control the appropriateness of what I write and I fail to predict how other people would react to it.

My recommendations would be to do as little discussions online as possible. Blogging is appropriate because it is not discussion. It is an inhibited expression of one's thoughts which is what internet is useful for. At least use your voice to make your point in a discussion than simply hacking at your keyboard. Don't communicate on social networking sights, news websites etc because then you'll one day end up in a fierce discussion. And if you want to know what that is like, then please go and read the comments on any youtube video. The most peaceful and soft spoken people turn violent serial murderers on the net.

Internet provides your brain with food for thought. Your brain can spend hours munching over stuff that is stressful and useless. You can read about injustices on another continent and be stressed for weeks, forgetting the injustice that might have happened just a few blocks from where you live. Information sharing needs to be localized and not globalized. If you don't know what's going on near you, then you are not connected. Recently, there was a gruesome incident of public lynching in Sialkot and the video was circulated around the world. Pakistanis all over the world became extremely stressed, but sadly that video had really no relevance to the little world they live in. People need to differentiate between whats their business and whats not. People need to clear their minds now, otherwise it would be difficult to focus on anything worthwhile.

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