Online Life Bane or Boon Essay

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Anyone who uses his or her cellphone too quickly check a message while standing in line at the grocery store is likely to become aware of the intense hostility directed toward Internet technology. The Internet has been accused of making people rude and less civil in real life and in online life; of negatively influencing elections; even of artificially damaging the human brain by reducing the natural human attention span. Very few technologies admittedly have no negative effects. Even early industrialization had negative effects on the lives of people who wove by hand for a living. But while the Internet has clearly had some negative effects, this should not outweigh the positive impact it has had upon many lives, including connecting people who would otherwise not have any social outlet, and providing a window onto the world that intellectually curious people would not otherwise be able to see.

Sherry Turtle’s essay “Growing up Tethered” from her book Alone Together is designed to illustrate the irony of living in the digital age. Turtle argues that although it might seem as if teens today are more unfettered than ever before by constraints, given that they can easily travel in time and space through their digital access, in fact they constantly feel the need to be tethered to their cellphones. If they miss a text or Snap, they are hopelessly out of the loop. The phenomenon of texting while driving is not due to teenage recklessness, but a fear of being left out. 

The idea that teenage independence is enhanced by surfing the web is also counteracted by the fact that the technology enables parents to keep tabs on their children at all times. Even the sheer expense of a cellphone plan and the phone itself can be viewed as binding children to their parents more. Parents can also withhold access if the child misbehaves, and for many adolescents, the prospect of not being connected to their friends online is a greater threat than the pleasures any party could possibly bring.  This is part of a larger trend to an other-directed rather than an inner-directed self, in Turtle’s point of view. A lack of autonomy is fostered by the presence of continual contacts with friends and family.

But Turtle’s perspective assumes that teens only use the Internet to validate their current perspective and contact current friends. What about LGBT+ teens who may be in rural and isolated communities and have no access to positive gay role models? Or simply teens who have political or social views that differ from their communities? The Internet also allows teens to read books and access information that they might be prohibited from by their parents in previous eras. Even if some teens may use their phones to surf worthless facts about reality television, other teens may use it to learn about new and evolving identity categories that they might not have thought possible, spanning from girls who do extreme sports to transgender teens.

Turtle also argues that the Internet allows teens to construct false personas, like avatars and Facebook profiles which stand in for the real, developing self. But this is not so different than personas constructed by clothing and membership in specific cliques, which have always been part of adolescence. At least the personas teens construct online can be changed more easily than identities created in real life in high school. Teens who are very introverted and socially shy can also find new outlets online. A teen who is afraid to speak aloud in class for being mocked may feel brave and find a new source of self-esteem starting up a book blog about her favorite novels. 

Turtle’s essay presumes that there is something more authentic about life lived in the moment, but literature, even literature in books is always removed from supposedly “more real” hands-on reality, yet no one would suggest that books, the rise of the mass market press, and other such developments are negatives for the culture or for developing social identities. Yet authors like Turtle and Charles Seife can only see the negative aspects of being able….....

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Works Cited

Andrews, Lori. “George Orwell... Meet Mark Zuckerberg.”

Boyd, Dana. “Inequality: Can Social Media Resolve Social Divisions?”

Seife, Charles. “The Loneliness of the Interconnected,” 298-303. Web. 13 Jul 2018.

Turtle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2011.

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