Dr. Aboujaoude is a psychiatrist and the director of both the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and the Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine. Based on his clinical experience and a good bit of research, Aboujaoude observes that tendencies developed online in one’s e-personality can affect real-life behaviors as well. Along the way he offers many very thoughtful insights into how online behaviors evolve and how they can ultimately change overall personality.
One quite relevant one involves how texting and sites like Second Life can impact real-life behaviors:
“The inner child that comes alive online or on the iPhone or Blackberry keypad acquires a ‘voice’ that is playful and orthographically challenged like a kid’s, but calculating and potentially dangerous, like an adult’s.” He says it is this “toxic mix of dark desires in the virtual world and the immature, barely oral phase to which many adults regress online” that contribute to much of the sexual, pornographic, and predatory communications on the Internet.
Aboujaoude also observes that the speed of online communication, coupled with the facelessness of such interactions, inclines people to more quickly enter into discussions of intimate details of their lives with strangers. Online communication can rapidly become “hyperpersonal,” which in turn contributes to real-life sexual “hook-ups” when people first meet—because by the time they meet they feel they know everything about the other person. Anthony Weiner aside, these kinds of insights go a long way to explaining how people we thought to be perfectly sensible can behave quite differently online (and perhaps offline in their real lives as well).
In the end, the author does not advocate that we simply turn off our connections to the Interent and return to life as it was fifteen years or so ago. No matter how serious the consequences of our being online can become, he has no illusions about a return to yesteryear. Rather he suggests we use caution in our actions online. He believes we need to first know ourselves before we can safely and maturely interact online. Aboujaoude calls for more research into online behavior as well as for new paradigms both for parenting and educating our children. And he holds onto the hope that we will survive the changes the Internet is making just as we survived the invention and proliferation of the steam engine in the Industrial Revolution. The question remains, however, whether the changes the Internet brings are not more insidious, more pernicious, and more pervasive than those brought about by the inventions of the Industrial Age. No one as yet seems to know. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see.