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Virtually You: The Dangerous Powers of the E-Personality Hardcover – February 7, 2011
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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
“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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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....They 'scan, flick, and power browse their way through digital content, developing new forms of online reading'" (190). The purpose of this reading method is "'to avoid reading'" (191). Relying on a study by John Gehl and Suzanne Douglas, Dr. Aboujaoude explains that the old way of passing information (we might add wisdom and passion too), the one-to-many model which assumes that "the message sender had more information than the message receiver" (203) is on the way out. The one with the control, Gehl and Douglas write, "'is not the one with the message but the one with the mouse'" (203). Perhaps professors would be the first to be washed out in the tide, but the journalists, economists, and experts of various ilk would not be far behind.
Do we really want this confounding Babel Tower? Do we really want to live in a world where all opinions are equally valid, no matter how many years the expert has spent on studying his or her subject? Why are we so enticed by dumbness? What would happen to our civilized reading of the great classics, books by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Hardy, the Bronte sisters, D.H. Lawrence, Dickens, Kafka, Shakespeare, and others--books that have always given us startling beauty, wisdom, and self-knowledge?
Most sad is the Internet threat to our loving relationships. In cyberspace, Dr. Aboujaoude points out, "sex can be turned into a straightforward, simple transaction. Arranged online, it can be a mostly devoid-of-feelings pleasurable exchange of something, with no future-oriented expectation for long-term anything." Thus "the impatient, raw, cut-to-the-chase manner of transacting around issues of sexuality gets played out beyond Craiglist, causing tension and tipping the balance, in real life, away from love or romance or dating..." (184). The thought of a world without love is unbearable. It's "1984" all over again. It's life without meaning, cheap and disposable as a tin can. It's life in a sinister playground, where adults, of their own accord, childishly renounce responsibility, and children ride their "mice" to oblivion. I can't imagine such a life.
Finally, the Internet threatens the well-being of our democracy. As we all know, democracy functions well when its citizens are informed. But many of our citizens on the Internet are no longer informed; many of them can't think or read deeply; and many of them can be easily duped by cyberspace predators. As Aboujaoude points out, since the Internet has shortened our attention spans, it can become easier "for demagogues to spread...their one-liner propaganda slogans" (212). Indeed, we are already seeing the results of this dark process in a confused, divided, rude, and violent citizenry, a citizenry armed with an unfamiliar and unshakeable sense of entitlement.
I think that the survival of our civilization really depends on our ability to postpone gratification, an ability which has always been hard to achieve and sustain but which is now jeopardized more than ever, thanks to the Internet. Work, discipline, and seriousness of purpose will save us--not uninterrupted fun and games.
Dr. Aboujaoude, thank you so much for writing this book!
The content he presents is relevant as well as interesting and the arguments he makes are rather convincing. However, as a part of the technological generation, I cannot bring myself to agree with Aboujauoude's view and I imagine many more will find themselves in the same situation. There are many ways which the Web benefits us, productively and socially, and the way technology impacts society can often only be judged subjectively; when change occurs, someone's always bound to become unhappy about it.
As implied, virtually you is a decent read, despite sporting a rather unpopular viewpoint. If anything, it's message was quite refreshing. If you have a passion for the topic, I would recommend this book no matter your opinion.
Most recent customer reviews
It is an easy read, enriched by illustrative examples.