Back in April of 2008 I attended a fantastic event called ‘Being Virtual’ at the Dana Centre which is part of the Science Museum in London. The Dana Centre offer loads of fantastic free events where you can learn, discuss and debate various issues concerning contemporary science, technology and culture.
This particular event was primarily concerned with the number of individuals who are living part-real / part-virtual lives; and the perks and pitfalls that this virtual identity provides. It was a really interesting debate, and one which got me thinking about the pros and cons of virtual life.
Whilst I don’t participate in virtual communities such as Second Life; it nevertheless got me thinking about how the perks and indeed the pitfalls of online communities more generally. What occurs to me is that essentially online life is a paradox – everything about it that’s fantastic, is also potentially dangerous.
One of the things I love about the internet is that whatever particular interest you might have, you can find other people who share these interests and communities which you can participate in.
Undoubtedly finding others who share your life experiences / sexual orientation / views / interests / hobbies etc can give a sense of validation and positively boost your self esteem. Examples might include special interest groups, online support groups etc.
However, what if your interest is, how can I put this – less than ‘healthy’?
The Pro Anorexia (or ‘pro-ana’) movement have a very large online presence – offering those with eating disorders to interact with other like-minded individuals, who encourage and support each other to continue to lose weight.
Clearly this is a support group of a different kind. Rather than focusing on rehabilitation, these groups positively validate individuals who choose to continue to harm themselves via their eating disorders.
For me this really is the darker side of the internet. Now clearly this is by no means the worst type of community you can find online – I’m highlighting it purely as an example.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is not an article damning ‘pro ana’ sites. It’s just that sometimes (and to my mind this is a decent enough example) validation is not what you need.
I believe that whilst it’s great to interact with those who support and validate your views; it’s also really important to speak to those who do not share your views. Debate is good. Through debate you may see things differently.
I think the potential danger of the internet is the single-minded nature of some of the communities therein. I think that there’s a danger that some individuals will use the internet to cut themselves off from everyone who disagrees with them; and safe within this bubble continue to close themselves off.
I recognise this is a tricky subject, but like I said debate is good – please share your thoughts.