News on Campus

THE LONELY PLANET
Computers make our lives easier ­ and pull us further apart

By Justin Pope


Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. Sara Stein absolutely stunned a manager at a major computer company recently. With a simple UNIX command she informed him that, as they spoke on the telephone, 15 employees at his office were logged onto a single chat channel, talking away rather than doing work. Stein could practically hear the jaw dropping at the other end of the line. “That’s just one chat channel and there are hundreds if not thousands out there,” she says.

Some of those employees may have been suffering from computer addiction, now officially considered a clinical disorder. Like many people around Stanford and Silicon Valley, Stein is a big fan of computers and considers the Internet “the most exciting informational source since the printed page.” But she is also among the few cautionary voices starting to rise above the pro-machine din and point out that revolutionary technologies have spawned some troubling psychological side-effects.

One of Stein’s concerns is that the anonymity of the Net renders the majority of normal users indistinguishable from the small minority of insidious, sociopathic and dangerous ones. But computer addiction may be the more prevalent problem.

“Humans can become physiologically and psychologically addicted to substances or habits, ranging from heroin to shopping,” she wrote in an article in Stanford Medicine magazine. “Why not computers and the Internet?” Stein said computer addicts even enjoy “highs” similar to those felt by drug addicts. Symptoms include a preference for on-line relationships as well as the symptoms of addiction, including tolerance and withdrawal.

The Lonely Planet (Plain text)

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SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 1997

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