Is there life beyond cyberspace?

April 1, 2007 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Kim in famous cafe in Rio de JanieroOntological insecurity seems to be common place in our society – a basic uncertainty about one’s own being, one’s place in the world. In an earlier post, I looked at Positive Psychology and how it might be able to help us navigate the hedonistic lifestyle. I picked up this article on internet addiction and it has caused me to ponder whether, given the strains of modern living, addiction is an adaptive mechanism that substitutes for a strong sense of one’s own reality and the reality of the world in which one lives.

China seems to be an interesting case study in addiction. Teenagers obsessed with online gaming are being isolated from the internet in costly “boot camp” style clinics, where they get in touch with the everyday realities of life such as washing laundry. The price for staying in one of these clinics can be as much as 10,000 yuan (AUD$1,600), or a year’s salary for many Chinese people.

One clinic director commented: “Some of the kids here live in another world. They assume the role of kings or wizards. To use a Western expression, their soul has left for the other side“. The other side presumably being a not-so-happy, dark world of violence given that a recent survey showed that 33.5% of juvenile delinquency cases in the Beijing area – including rape and robbery – were linked to excessive time spent playing online games.

China has 2.5 million Internet addicts, who are mainly young males. During the formative years of childhood, personalities are being shaped by the violence common to many internet games.The same clinic director further commented: “Close to 40 percent of the kids here show violent behavior. They may start fighting over trifles.”

I am not about to utter get rid of the internet and bring back the good old days. The internet has allowed the globe to be ‘wired up’ for the first time in history and has brought wonderful access to collective intelligence. But a down-side of the internet and our “Affluenza” lifestyles is quite clearly a lack of the sense of being in touch, feelings of uncertainty, self-doubt and anxiety. These inner turmoils can create a desire to escape from oneself and one’s situation. This is where the need for an external escape route enters our lives – online gaming, clubbing, drugs, even blogging.

Of course, there are addictive personalities and the possibility that addiction of any sort is an inherited predisposition. Yet, I was reflecting after I read the article about Chinese addicts whether our loss of joy and happiness has something to do with it. I’m not implying that we’re all depressed and addicted to something but I am suggesting that something is behind the fact that Western society, in particular, is badly damaged by the excessive pursuit of material gain. And our social condition is further tainted by control being largely taken away from us. We work in citadels (aka corporations) we can hardly hope to influence; technology is shifting so rapidly we’ve hardly had time to master one gadget when another one comes along. Maybe we’ve lost touch with the natural rhythms of our bodies, which tell us when to eat or when to stop eating. With so much choice and large portions of fast food available, we have lost the ability to know when we have had enough – and so we are witnessing the continuing rise of obesity. And while modern medicines can certainly save lives, the medical and pharmaceutical industries encourage us to rely on them and take antibiotics for the slightest thing.

Perhaps we are getting wiser – hence the popularity of alternative therapies and fast food chains suddenly offering “healthy” salads (just watch the fat count!).

But I always remember a talk that Peter Drucker gave, I think in the late 1990s. He was talking about “knowledge workers”, a term he coined in 1959, and I was fortunate enough to attend as I was working in the US at the time. He said something like this: the 21st Century will be the age of self-responsibility. By this he meant not only that individuals have a responsibility to find the correct information they need to do their jobs properly; but also, as individuals, we have reciprocal relationships with others, and we need to think about what our responsibility might be towards them ie impact of our actions; what information/knowledge they might need from us etc.

So….taking this notion of self-responsibility a bit further, the antidote to the social disease of addiction could be taking self-responsibility by learning to rely on and obtain a sense of self from a strong internal core. Instead of relying on some external agent to make us feel secure, valued or needed, we can learn to be optimistic and happy within ourselves. I really think Positive Psychology will have a profound impact on our fractured lives. As we whizz through shopping centres, barely noticing our fellow humans because we’re on our way to the brand-name sale; as we increasingly find ourselves with fewer social relationships because we spend most of our time at work or because we’ve lost the extended family notion; as we enter the alternative universe of the internet though games or chat (and yes) even blogging and find we are spending less time just looking at clouds go by or pondering life’s big questions – we will need to relearn how to depend on ourselves; learn to be happy and optimistic.

Are you happy with your lot in life? to find out, you can take the Authentic Happiness questionnaire available from the Authentic Happiness Centre, University of Pennsylvania (which is the “home” of Positive Psychology). You’ll need to register to gain access to all the questionnaires available, but worth it as the questionnaires really get you thinking!

Entry filed under: Positive psychology, Reflections, Social problems.

Learning 2.0 Is the answer in the stars?

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Amanda Horne  |  April 12, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    Hi there Kim….absolutely agree. And it’s great to see your posts on Positive Psychology! Are you also familiar with Ross Gittins comments on this topic? He’s written quite a lot about this over the past 18 months, for the SMH and The Age. And do you know Clive Hamilton’s work on Affluenza (The Australia Insitute).
    Further works which might interest you: Barry Schwartz: “The Paradox of Choice” and Gregg Easterbrook “The Progress Paradox”.

    One of the ‘triggers’ which led to the PP movement was the work around money and happiness e.g. Ed Diener (and others) around life satisfaction and money, noting that in the western world we’re much wealthier than we were 50 yrs ago, but happiness has stayed flat. Depression, suicide, divorce etc has increased.

    On your comment re Drucker and relationships with others, one of the chief figures in the PP movement, and also the person behind the Signature Strengths, Chris Peterson, is saying that PP is about three words: “Other People Matter”.

    Fascinating stuff!


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