(Note: This article was originally published on 1/10/2008. The author has re-printed it now in light of the May 15 indictment of Lori Drew, of suburban St. Louis, MO. The indictment states that Ms Drew allegedly helped create a MySpace account in the name of someone who didn't exist to convince Megan Meier she was chatting with a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Ms. Drew was charged with conspiracy and fraudulently gaining access to someone else's computer.)
A young girl in Missouri recently committed suicide over comments made on her MySpace account. Young people in Japan and other nations have formed on-line suicide clubs. Every day millions of people abandon more and more hours of their days to live virtual lives in places like SecondLife and World of Warcraft or just sending text messages.
This trend is not new but it is accelerating, just like a fast car full of teenagers perhaps headed to a brick wall. Violent computer games like Doom, Quake, and the Grand Theft Auto series are just early stages in this growing trend. Violence has always been a part of human society. It is not at all surprising that it comes to roost in whatever endeavors people undertake.
Even the act of lighting up a cigarette is a gross act of violence against the living cells in our bodies. No matter, a billion people probably light up a cigarette every day, even people we consider to be educated professionals.
Corporations legally design and sell guns that have no other purpose except to kill humans. Millions of people buy these guns to protect themselves against the few that buy these guns expressly to kill another human being. This is what humans do to make themselves feel safer in certain violent societies all over the world. Make no mistake, the vast majority of people are peaceful and live quietly alongside their neighbors. Unfortunately the news media, entertainers, and military organizations often paint a quite different and distorted picture of the societies we live in.
Inside of computers, virtual weapons of every possible type are available for free or for small monthly fees. People of all ages pick up these guns and spend hours shooting cartoon images of other people, all for fun and entertainment.
Other people use the anonymity of on-line computer communities to socialize. Going out of your home to socialize is now considered too dangerous by many people. Even people in small towns sometimes feel it is safer to meet people by networking on the computer rather than talking at a coffee house. In fact, actual coffeehouses are often crammed with people sitting alone, in front of computers, chatting with total strangers or perhaps distant real friends.
Parents see their children peering into computer screens and tiny cell phones, chatting with friends the parents often never get to meet in person. Many parents value the role of the computer in their child's life. Who knows if their daughter or son might not become the next Bill Gates? Who knows if their child might get so attached to virtual worlds, to social networking sites, or to text messaging that they forget how to greet and talk with real people?
Violent computer games can help spawn real world violence. This is no longer just an educated guess. Too much 'virtual time,' spent in MySpace or Facebook or text messaging friends, does have an impact on a young person's language skills, the ability to read expressions, and how we make solid judgments about who is a good friend. It is especially important for parents to know this is the case. Ignoring the negative impact of new technologies only increases the risk that one of these gadgets or web sites might cause harm to your child.
Would you be upset If your daughter develops hearing problems from listening to the iPod turned too loud? Would it trouble you if your son tries his Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft killing skills out in the real world? What if some adult uses MySpace to pose as a friend to your teenage child? What is the worst that could happen? Sexual assault? Suicide? Murder?
As a larger portion of society embraces the 'virtual life' each year, fewer and fewer people seem to remember how to live out in the actual physical world. Many young people and not a few adults live large portions of their life in a fantasy world named, 'MySpace' or 'Facebook' or 'SecondLife.' Remember, history shows that the number and type of these places will only grow over time. The beauty of real friendship, fresh flowers, and a long walk in the neighborhood is getting lost while we sit rotting among cell phones, LCD panels, and keyboards. Seize back your real families and friends, people, before it is too late!
Recent Washington Post article (05/15/08) on Megan Meier MySpace hoax
Washington Post article (01/09/08) on Suicide
BBC Article on Video Game Violence
Second Life article #1