Computer scientists at Stanford played a prominent role in the rise of the digital age and continue to be a driving force in developing the tools of our technology-dependent lifestyle. Now researchers on campus and elsewhere have begun exploring the social and psychological implications of living in an always-on world.
A piece in the latest issue of Stanford Magazine takes a closer look at how unintended consequences of technology may be affecting our well-being and highlights the work of Elias Aboujaoude, MD, who directs clinics for obsessive-compulsive disorders and impulse disorders at the School of Medicine. In the article, Aboujaoude expresses concerns about the blurring boundaries between real and virtual life:
He's troubled at the rise of online communities in which individuals struggling with an array of serious illnesses and conditions-including anorexia, paranoia and depression-eschew therapeutic resources in favor of connecting with others who reinforce or promote dangerous, even deadly behaviors. (See sidebar.) He also worries about the illusion of intimacy these communities and other online relationships create between strangers. A study published in 2007 by researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health showed that nearly one-third of adult women engaged in sexual activity during their first face-to-face meeting with men they had met online-and 77 percent of those did not use condoms-even though most had been clear in their online communications that they did not intend to meet to have sex and were wary about sexually transmitted diseases. Aboujaoude believes that because of the online communication, "they know-or think they know-virtually everything. They have seen the pictures, researched the company, Googled the ex-wife, and gotten a sense of the man's health history; little is left but to have sex."
The entire story is worth reading, especially in light of recent data showing Americans are online an average of 32 hours per month.
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