Hikikomori – a digital recluse?

In the March 15, 2010 edition of Newsweek, Devin Stewart reports that “the estimated number of hikikomori” is burgeoning. Hikikomori, as it turns out, is the Japanese term for “shut-ins who have given up on social life.”

Stewart seems to suggest that this is related to the miserable economy, where Japan’s massive debt has contributed to just 14% of respondents reported feeling confident in Japan’s direction, according to an Ipsos/Reuters poll cited by Stewart. But, what if the economy is just a single contributor among many? And what if hikikomori are cropping up across the globe and not just in Japan?

As I read Stewart’s brief column, I couldn’t help but remember a March 2007 essay published in Harper’s where I first encountered Internet Addiction (“I was a Chinese Internet Addict.”) That essay discussed the phenomenon, likely to be added to the DSM-5, in which individuals become so obsessed with the internet that they lose touch with reality (I’m dramatizing, but only slightly). What of the people who give up on physically social lives, and opt for solely (or predominantly) digital ones?

This bears keeping in mind. As social media develops and becomes more pervasive – as comprehensive connection to a digital world becomes more facile, what do we stand to lose?

Email Addiction. Side-effects: Stupidity.

Way back in aught 08 (September 2008), I wrote about the building evidence for Internet addiction. The March 2010 Entrepreneur brings us an article by Joe Robinson  (“Email is Making You Stupid“) which explores several aspects of technological addictions – including the harmful side-effects.

This article suggests that the burgeoning amount of emails, instant messages, tweets, and texts we receive  are becoming a harmful and prohibitive cacophony of hyper-communication. So why can’t people reduce the amount of messages they send (and receive)? Well, they could be addicted (“e-compulsion”). In such instances researchers notice decreased attention spans, increased stress, and decreased productivity (Alarming statistics! Read the article).

The most frightful thing to consider? What if what we’re doing – emailing about – day-to-day really impacts our life in the long-term? Robinson brings to light an argument by Winifred Gallagher, authored of Rapt, that “humans are the sum of what they pay attention to: What we focus on determines our experience, knowledge, amusement, fulfillment. Yet instead of cultivating this resource, she says, we’re squandering it on ‘whatever captures our awareness.’ To truly learn something, and remember it, you have to pay full attention.”

As noted by Robinson, it pays to pay attention to attention.

The Sexting Phenomenon and Accountability

I’m probably crossing a line with this post. I’ve been sitting on this one for about a week now, discussing this with friends and reflecting on it. My opinion hasn’t changed.

By now, you probably have heard of the sexting phenomenon. If not, in brief, it is the act of sending nude or semi-nude pictures of yourself to others via your mobile phone. Here’s the shocker: according to a survey performed last year by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 20 percent of teens “said they had sent or posted nude or semi-nude photos or videos of themselves” (MSNBC). Split out by gender, this was true for 22% of girls vs 18% of boys.

In the last couple of months, three sexting scandals have launched onto the media’s radar. Continue reading “The Sexting Phenomenon and Accountability”

Happy Birthday: Now Spill All Your Secrets.

What were you doing at midnight on February 4, 2009? Sleeping? Chomping down a late-night snack? Facebooking? If the latter, you were unwittingly celebrating Mark Zuckerberg’s creation on its fifth birthday.


Five years and 150 million users later, Facebook is still the topic of heated debate. What does this construct say about our society? What impact is it having? What social mores is it changing? These questions, and others, will continue to be posed and considered for years to come and, fortunately, Facebook will keep delivering material for speculation. Take, for example, the “25 Random Things” note racing through this social network’s veins like some epidemic virus. The object is to fill out a list of 25 things about yourself, a blend of the private and the personal, and publish it to your friends. They are then supposed to fill out a list about themselves in turn, and pass it on. As John Timpane of the Philadelphia Inquirer observes, after one person sent this note to ten others, and those ten sent the note to ten of their friends, “soon Facebook – a virtual living room where people hang out and tell everyone else what they’re doing and thinking – is awash with personal revelations, admissions, info once kept private.”

Continue reading “Happy Birthday: Now Spill All Your Secrets.”

Count Your Marbles

Take any given person (even yourself, if you’d like), and ask the following:

Does he/she exhibit traces of

  • Impaired social skills (social interaction),
  • Impaired communicative abilities,
  • Restricted interests, and/or
  • Repetitive behavior.

If you answered yes to a majority of those characteristics, you are either

  1. A modern, “connected” individual
  2. Autistic

As Janet Maslin points out in a book review entitled, “So Plugged in, Yet So Disconnected: Field Notes from Wired America,” perhaps the most valuable aspect of Dalton Conley’s Elsewhere, U.S.A. was buried in a footnote: the observation of a “connection between social disembodiment and rising rates of autism, a condition that defies the conventions of social networking.”

The similarities between autism and “our isolating, newly normal adult behavior are related” are frightening, indeed.

Reconsidering Your Value (Online)

“On a social network, you’re the product rather than the customer.” That’s a blurb I took from Chris William’s article, “Facebook in Goldmine Potential Deficit,” published at The Register.

Does this describe the relationship between you and your social network(s), as you perceive it? No? Does the idea make you uncomfortable, then? Can you dispute it?

Williams makes a few poignant observations from a humanistic perspective, but those are really background noise to his major assertions: that Web 2.0 might be a bubble about to pop; that we might begin to see select Social Networks go belly-up, because they simply aren’t turning a profit (or in some cases, making any money whatsoever); and that some Social Networks might start charging users for basic services, such as video uploads.

Creating (and Destroying) Realities

At thirteen years of age and living just four-doors apart from each other, Sarah Drew and Megan Meier were your typical girl friends in your typical Missouri town living their typical teenage lives. Megan and Sarah even experienced a typical falling-out, when chats about boys turned into name-calling, bickering and, eventually, silence.

If only that had been the end of their typical friendship. Instead, in the summer of 2006, Sarah’s mother, Lori Drew, got involved. Aged forty-seven at the time, Lori created a MySpace profile for a fictional boy, Josh Evans. She sought out and “friended” Megan Meier online “in an attempt to woo [Megan] and extract information from her to determine if she had been spreading gossip about [her] daughter.” [1] For weeks, Lori Drew, her daughter, and a co-worker fabricated a romantic relationship with Meier until, in October 2006, things got ugly. Attacking Megan’s self-esteem, “Josh Evans” wrote “I don’t want to be friends with you anymore because you’re not nice to your friends.”[2] Shortly after Megan replied, asking what he meant, she realized that “Evans” had publicly posted messages she had written to him, where they could be viewed by all of her friends at school. As a result, these “friends” began posting bulletins making fun of Megan. Continue reading “Creating (and Destroying) Realities”

Mobile (banking+politics+connecing)=?

You may have noticed a good deal of hullabaloo in the press about the advent of Mobile Banking: the new technology enabling consumers to control their financial assets from their mobile phone (texting to transfer funds, schedule a payment, check balances, et cetera).

As exciting as that is, banking is not the only activity people engage in on-the-go. ABI research reports that 46% of those who use social networks have also accessed a social network through their mobile phone (70% of those had visited MySpace  and 67% had visited Facebook). Interestingly, when asked why they had logged in via their mobile, 50% acknowledged checking for comments and messages, while 45% logged in to make status updates – that is, projecting what they were doing or feeling to their online audience. Continue reading “Mobile (banking+politics+connecing)=?”