Blame it on the Internet

Today there’s an article in one of the big Swedish newspapers, Dagens Nyheter, entitled “World Wide Suicide” (for a linguist like me, the reason why the title of this Swedish article is in English would be an interesting issue to pursue in itself, but that’s another matter…). The author, Thomas Anderberg, reports on how people via the internet increasingly encourage each other to commit suicide and sometimes also met up IRL to take the final step together. This problem has lately received much attention because of a recent incident in the States where the police took action to prevent collective suicide planned online.

 

Anderberg sees the anonymity that the internet allows for as the main reason for these trends. He claims that the meetings that happen online are unreal, since people can take on roles that can be switched off with the computer. I would have liked to see a more nuanced picture here – not all people take on different personas or masks when entering cyberspace, nor does anonymity and connectivity always have to be bad. People who have problems and depressions can find support and help on the net if they know where to search for it, and here anonymity can have positive effects. Nevertheless, these problems do exist and no matter how utopian our view of the internet is, we cannot ignore them.

 

This relates to one of the things Elza Dunkels mentioned in her seminar this last Tuesday, which we also continued to discuss over coffee afterwards, and which Bryan touches upon in this previous post. In an article in the Scotsman she had read about the dangers that moblogging supposedly imposes on young kids. By supplying information about their interests and daily whereabouts it is argued that they become easy targets for pedophiles. According to Elza, the dilemma here is that as new technological developments make their way into our lives “new” dangers are identified. Most of the time, however, the core problems are not new, and this obsession with the technology distracts us from what’s really important. In her view, the greatest danger is that we don’t focus on the people, the children that don’t have a good enough contact with adults to get the support they need. Consequently, making regulations that forbid children to use cell phones in schools etc. doesn’t solve the main problem but only touches on the surface. In her blog, Elza states that “the internet hasn’t really added anything new. Apart from a troublesome openness. For the first time we are now able to see the really scary sides of life. This is our chance! Now we can finally do something about it!” (my translation).

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