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Potential dangers of the internet

Crimmins, D. (1997). Potential dangers of the internet. S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.

OVERVIEW

A ninth grader comes home to work on his research project for school. He types his project title, "Teens and Advertising," into the search engine and clicks the mouse. Up pops a list of several potential sources with the word "teen" and/or "advertising" in them: one article is "Teens in the Advertising World"; scrolling down, another is "Teen Idols in Advertising." Out of a list of 1,235 possible matches, 200 appear with "Teen Porn" titles. The young man again clicks the mouse. He enters the accessible world of fantasy on the World Wide Web. Nude teens in provocative poses is just the start for anyone sensing something missing in their world.

While the primary purpose of the Internet is to send information from one place to another, it also provides information into the world of fantasy. Virtual reality worlds and interactive pornography are on the cutting edge; these industries spend millions to upgrade to the latest technology to entice surfers young and old.

Teenagers today are inundated with choices on the Internet, regardless of graphic language or pictures. Chat rooms are the second most popular area for teens to visit (games are first); chat rooms vary from the general, benign American on-line chat rooms to the more specific, risky rooms. Adolescents can chat with anyone and be anyone. A 13-year-old female teenager says in an interview, " ‘It is easier to make friends over the Internet.’ " Another 17-year-old teen named states, " ‘It helps me forget school and other things.’ " The chat room is a place to converse with strangers, much like going to a bar for light conversation.

Some chatters may be truthful; others may be caught up in a fantasy role. The "chatters" that I talked to all appreciate being heard. A 19-year-old interviewed at a California Cyber Café states, " ‘I’ve spent as much as five hours here in one day.’ " Half of his time is spend having cyberchats with girls. He adds, " ‘It’s great because any relationships that develop are a result of your mind, not what you look like.’ " The 13-year-old shares, " ‘I wish everybody could see beyond someone’s race, sex or creed and the Internet does make it easier to be listened to.’ " (Temple, L. [1997, April 14]. Courting by computer. USA Today, p.6D).

While surfing the Internet, this author found a web site called, "Just for Teens," where teens give advice to other teens. Down the cyber path, more advice for teens was found in "Puberty 101." At this site, kids ask any questions to a dubious therapist.

Virtual reality enables chatters to create their own cartoon-like character, called an avatar. The body types, heads, and general coloring cost tokens which can be obtained by playing in the virtual world. A surfer can accumulate enough tokens to purchase a new identity of a shapely man or woman, and eventually, a room complete with custom furniture. Oz Interactive launched virtual "Rave," held simultaneously on the Internet and at Irving Plaza in New York. "They wore special motion-capture suits that helped Oz technicians capture their movements and then translate the action to animated avatars. Users were able to create their own avatars that could walk around, dance and interact with other guests." (1996, December 16. Computer Retail Week.)

When I went to the virtual world, "Worlds Away," I found that the people behind the avatars were surprisingly friendly. I actually ran into avatar who gave me some tokens and helped me buy a head from the head shop. She then asked me to come up to her room, via the elevator. I stopped there because I did not know how to get in the elevator; she tried to help me, but it was getting late and it was time for real—not virtual—sleep. I sensed that I met a friend over this glorified chat room. The virtual room is seductive to the surfers because the fantasy is made so real. If I were to go up to the avatar’s room, would I have been committing adultery? Or would that be cyber adultery?

Upon surveying over twenty high school students in Connecticut and in chat rooms across the country, I found very few to be involved in these virtual worlds. Many had heard of them but did not know how to get there or download the free software. Still, as the Internet advances, many kids may transition from chat rooms to virtual reality, allowing them to maintain anonymity while fantasy role playing.

What needs are being met through virtual reality? Fantasy, a longing to be someone else, a desire to feel complete, or maybe just to have fun. The Internet may seem harmless, but there are actual cases of addictions to the Internet, according to USA Today: "Some said they logged on the moment they woke up. Others snuck on-line when spouses wouldn’t catch them and stayed up ‘talking’ to strangers so late they were exhausted at work." (1996, July 1. USA Today.)

The Internet is powerful and sex is everywhere; it is just a click away for any computer user. "Something about the combination of sex and computers, however, seems to make otherwise worldly-wise adults a little crazy. How else to explain the uproar surrounding the discovery by a U.S. Senator—Nebraska Democrat James Exon—that pornographic pictures can be downloaded from the Internet and displayed on a home computer." (1995, July 3. Time, p.38)

Pornography is also seductive for teens because it is shunned by the parents and church. Teens only need to click on a fine print warning stating that they are over 18 years old; then, they have access to a barrage of raw nudity and videos ready to download or e-mail. For teen boys, pornography is the number one reason they go on the Internet. According to a telephone survey, ten teen boys ranked their use accordingly: pornography, information, communication. Daniel Guess, head of "Virtual Dreams," a 24-hour, live video strip show operation, acknowledged, "’The ease of access to some on-line sex sites should be a cause of concern. I personally have three kids in diapers right now, and I’m going to have to deal with it…There is an amazing amount of stuff our there.’ " (1997, June 25. Atlanta Journal.) Local librarians have had difficulties with adolescent boys using their computers: boys aren’t eager to do research; they want to download fake credit card numbers and access expensive video pornography sites.

The growth and publicity of pornography on-line has expanded. "Week magazine estimated 10,000 ‘adult’ sites may be bringing in as much as $1 billion a year." (1997, June 25. Atlanta Journal.) This wealth ushers in sharper technology and the means for more explicit, more graphic interactive sex rooms. Net browsers can connect to "Babes 4U" and direct live models in a personal peep show to do anything for twenty minutes.

The Internet is powerful; it can unite people via chat rooms or separate marriages via cyber relationships. Chip Rowe of Playboy asks, " ‘If the net is the next Sodom or Gomorrah, as religious right and lawmakers want America to believe, if this is truly the future of sex, maybe we should invent something new.’ " (1996, June. Playboy.) Maybe people should return to meeting people in person and not filling themselves with raw sex scenes. The Internet has some great purposes, but heed the warnings of its seductive power.

QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION

  1. Why do you think so many people are interested in talking with strangers via chat rooms or virtual worlds?
  2. When is the virtual room too much?
  3. What are potential dangers for kids who spend many hours on the computer?
  4. As of July 1, 1997, the U.S. government had not passed any laws prohibiting pornography on the Internet. Is there a price paid for free speech? Is it worth the freedom? Explain.
  5. Why is the pornography industry is growing so rapidly on the Internet?
  6. How would you feel if you knew a relative who was downloading sex pictures?
  7. How can someone avoid pornography addiction?

IMPLICATIONS

  • The Internet is the wave of the future. Families, schools, and libraries all have access to the Internet, and children as young as eleven are email to friends such things as a top ten nude sex list. These children will grow up with a twisted view of women.
  • Many who use the Internet enjoy its ability to protect anonymity.
  • The Internet combines with cable to provide television with clear Internet visuals, including pornographic videos.

David Crimmins cCYS