Belfast Telegraph

Is virtual world making us lose touch with reality?

By Robert McNeil

Nurse, the screens! We're sitting in front of them too much, according to the experts. Indeed, I read the experts' views on a screen and I'm now writing to you on a screen.

The cold glow unites us through the ether, making communication a form of magic that Merlin might have died for.

And yet they — you know who I mean — keep warning that it's bad for us. Of course, they could be right. The rotten foundation of life is that we can't have good without bad.

Broadly speaking, if it tastes good, it kills you. So, if the internet is such a boon, where's the catch?

Well, there are the obvious corruptions inherent in the medium, such as pornography, bullying, and the peddling of hatreds (made easier through giving Anon access to the world).

But it isn't so much these that are causing the latest bout of angst. It's all the sitting down and withdrawing from the smelly, tactile world outside the house.

True, leaving the house is where all the trouble begins. If we all stayed indoors, the world would be a much safer place. But we need to be out and about, to see three-dimensional people and buses, to look and be looked at, to feel the wind on our phizogs. In my experience, there's nothing like a stiff breeze rustling round your Cairngorms.

All this has put the wind up Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember, who wrote this week about what had happened to him: “Even when I was away from my computer, my mind seemed hungry for constant stimulation, for quick hits of information. I felt perpetually distracted.”

Recognise the feeling, anyone? He says we can never properly focus online because we're always being distracted by links and emails.

And he quotes Roman geezer Seneca, who said: “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”

Well, where does that leave the nation's sproglings? The little cherubs would be glued to the screen all day if they had their own way.

A recent study found that some don't even look up when Daddy gets home. Half the time they don't even notice. So engrossed are they in virtual reality that they're becoming obese and developing high blood pressure, sleep disorders, and inattentiveness towards anything that can't be prodded with a cursor.

How much of this is true, I do not know. The few nippers in my ken have parents who ration their time online, though even they're conflicted about that because the internet as a learning resource is unrivalled. Complicated, huh?

This week, a psychologist told an EU working party that children should be restricted to one hour a day in front of a screen, be it the telly or the computer.

Leading loonologist Ari Sigman said hours slumped in front of TVs and computers have caused “the greatest unacknowledged health scandal of our time”.

Easy, tiger. What about drink? How bad must it be to sit in front of a screen too much and drink too much? Aargh! I've just diagnosed myself. Is there a doctor in the house? No? A barman?

Perhaps I should spend the rest of the day offline. You carry on with your paper. I'll just switch off my computer.

Reader's voice: “Have you done it yet?”

No.

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