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Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality Hardcover – February 7, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

As it does everything else it touches, the Internet has infiltrated the intricacies of its users’ psyches, spawning new forms of behavior, from the obsessive-compulsive checking of e-mail to the paranoid fear of identity theft. Equally hard-to-control character traits, such as narcissism and grandiosity, take on dangerous new meanings in one’s digital life, while video poker and one-click shopping elevate impulsive tendencies to uncontrollable levels, and avatars in parallel cyber-universes allow for the creation of alternate personalities. With a practice located in the heart of the Silicon Valley, Stanford University psychiatrist Aboujaoude credibly and rigorously explains how the way an individual functions in cyberspace impacts his or her behavior in the real world. Whether in rekindled romances facilitated by Facebook friendship or outraged ventings of opinion on a blog, offline selves are being influenced by online personae in ways society has yet to fully comprehend. Instantly engaging and eminently accessible, Aboujaoude offers an enlightening and cautionary exploration of an increasingly intrusive aspect of modern society. --Carol Haggas

Review

Dr. Aboujaoude documents a disturbing phenomenon that few medical professionals have written about, or understand, but most have witnessed. This important and intelligent book shows how the Internet has changed our lives, not all for the better. Relationships have become virtual, rather than real, and in the process, our personalities have been transformed to suit the new technology. Not suggesting we reverse the clock, Dr. Aboujaoude suggests we proceed with caution in this brave, new world, and try to better understand the transformative power of this new ‘virtualism.’ (Donald W. Black, MD, professor of psychiatry, University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine)

The effects of the Internet on our individual and collective psyches are becoming clearer and more worrisome every day. Elias Aboujaoude has written a book that not only has been needed for several years but could become a modern classic. A must-read for all of us who log on every day (Alan F. Schatzberg, MD, former president of the American Psychiatric Association)

Aboujaoude’s thorough review of the psychological and societal dangers of the online world is timely and important. These dangers are richly illustrated with clinical material and are thoughtfully analyzed using relevant research. Anyone who goes online at home or at work, or who has family or colleagues online, should carefully consider the issues raised in his volume. (Dan Stein, MD, professor and chair, Department of Psychiatry, University of Cape Town)

This is a timely volume on how the Internet has changed all of us in ways that we may not be aware of or that we prefer not to think about. It is an eye-opener and brings back a much-needed commonsense approach to the challenges posed by modern information and communication technology. The added value of the book is in its reliance on observation, wisdom and clinical experience, as well as data-driven knowledge. (Vladan Starcevic, MD, Sydney Medical School, University of Sydney)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (February 7, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393070646
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393070644
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,445,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

ELIAS ABOUJAOUDE, a Stanford University psychiatrist, earned an MD from Stanford University and a bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley. His books include "Compulsive Acts" and "Virtually You." He lives in San Francisco.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Books of this ilk almost exclusively blow, which I guess makes how good this one is even more impressive. The premise of Virtually You is that the costs of the internet are felt away from the computer, far enough away that often we fail to recognize the link. It's a pretty straightforward book--he pinpoints five negative psychological forces enabled by the web and each gets a chapter: Grandiosity, Narcissism, Darkness, Regression, and Impulsivity. The point isn't that these things happen online, it's that they happen online in ways they could not happen in real life. It's more difficult to pretend to be someone else in person, selfishness is questioned or ostracized, anti-social behavior isn't tolerated and compulsions for sex or material things are tempered by actual physical constraints. There's a well-trod and tired psychology trope for the web: people create alter-egos online so they can vicariously live through them. Well, what if 15 years into widespread internet usage, that isn't true anymore? What if who people pretend to be online changes who they are offline, and what if the electronic medium inherently encourages certain types of dysfunctional, unhealthy behavior? The latter part is definitely true. There are people who develop compulsive shopping addictions online but have no problem controlling themselves in stores. Or poker addicts who don't have the slightest desire to go a casino. And the former, in my experience, is increasingly more true. Does the aggressive and short tone we can take in emails bleed over into our personal interactions? I think so. I've long since grown exhausted with books of internet and technological cheerleading. The web won. Now it's time for books like this to help us make sense of what that victory truly means and how we can live productive, healthy lives within it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am deeply affected by this book, even though I am not addicted to the Internet (I am not on Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, etc.) Dr. Aboujaoude's warning in his conclusion is particularly chilling. Using Hobbes' description of our fate in "the state of nature" (i.e., without civilization) when the life of man would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," the good doctor warns that "the worst possible outcomes [Hobbes] feared have echoes in a medium he could not have imagined" (281).

The Internet, which offers many good things that support civilization, also offers a perpetual pleasure playground that makes us more distracted, nasty, arrogant, brutish, and narcissistic. Many of us on the Internet see ourselves as "outside of normal rules" (57), larger than life and invincible. This is a dangerous game that entices us to invest "in start-up stocks," seek fame "at all costs," and pursue "reckless sexual pairings," or "impossible-to-fund shopping sprees" (57). Using Freud's categories, Dr. Aboujaoude claims that the Internet has become a strong and almost unbeatable ally of our "id," an ally that could hold our minds, our wills, and our conscience (i.e., our "superego") captive.

As a college professor, I am particularly struck by Aboujaoude's description of the changes in our writing and reading habits. The Internet has already shredded most of our grammar rules. But I was even more alarmed by the changes in reading habits, for it is reading that teaches good writing. According to the British Library study (2008) which Aboujaoude quotes (one of the many invaluable sources he uses) "online readers are 'promiscuous, diverse, and volatile'....Their information-seeking behavior is 'horizontal, bouncing, checking and viewing in nature....
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Format: Hardcover
Virtually You is different from many books about the dangers of the Internet. Its focus is how our online habits are changing our personalities and affecting our offline behavior. It scared me a little and certainly made me think. This book covered a lot of ground, keeps you interested, and is well written and argued. It's just a good book that belongs in the library of anyone interested in how the Internet is changing us and our world.
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Format: Hardcover
This book focuses on the negative or dangerous aspects of our digital lives. Aboujaoude shows how the internet can foster things like Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (even creating new forms of OCD that don't exist in the "real world") an unrealistic sense of entitlement, narcissism, a false sense of security, greater inclination toward immoral behavior (e.g., rudeness and name calling in online discussion), and a false sense of knowledge among other things.

It's important to realize that Aboujaoude *does not* say that the internet or our digital lives in general only (or primarily) produces these undesirable effects. This isn't a crazy attack on technology that tries to persuade us to cancel our internet subscriptions and turn off the computer. He acknowledges the many benefits of the internet (e.g., online dating) while focusing on the dangerous and harmful elements that can arise in these same areas. This is important, because the dangerous elements are often insidious and, so far, little attention or study has been given these "dangerous powers."

This book should be required reading for young people today. Actually, it should be required reading for everyone in our digital society. But the things that Elias Aboujaoude has to say in this book need to be heard early on as preventative and not just corrective--after we've already logged enough time online to develop our dangerous e-personality. Unfortunately, as the author points out, there are few, if any, classes in high-school or at the college level that address the issues this book does, despite having many mandatory computer courses. There needs to be more classes that are devoted to the ethics and psychology of our digital lives and this book should be the text-book.
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