Is Social Media Turning Us Into Psychopaths?

Americans are spending more time online, and while total time spent on the Internet via PC dropped 10% to 73% in 2012, more and more of us are making up the difference on our phones, tablets, and even our televisions. American adults spend an average of eight hours a day in front of a screen. Kids spend an average of seven the same way, although their average increases to eleven hours a day if activities like texting, IMs, and phone-based browsing are included.

The deluge of information, addictive games, and the tantalizing potential for instant fame make it difficult for many to “pull the plug.” The same social media landscape helping us stay in touch with old friends and make new ones all over the world is also causing us to neglect our real-world relationships and obligations—sometimes with tragic results.

The addition of “Internet Addiction Disorder” to an appendix in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM-V) indicates just how serious the problem has become. The long-term impact of spending one’s life in the real world while constantly connected to the virtual one is not yet fully understood. While treatment for Internet addiction has been available since the mid-’90s, it’s worth noting that more people than ever before are exhibiting the ironically anti-social behaviors now associated with spending too much time online.

After millennia spent trying to master the world in which we actually live, humanity’s widespread adoption of Internet-based technology has fundamentally altered not only the ways in which we communicate with others, gather information, and entertain ourselves, but our perceptions and needs. Advances in hardware and networking have made staying in the know and on the go easier than ever. But too much time spent living in our virtual paradise just might be causing some of us to act like devils.


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