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CAMPUS CORRESPONDENCE : Lost in Cyber Space: Pitfalls of Easy Access to Internet

November 20, 1994|AMY WU | Amy Wu is a junior at New York University majoring in American History

The act of sending letters to all my high school friends at the touch of a button--and joining rec.music.Dylan (for Bob Dylan fans)--transformed me into a cyber addict. Nightly, I trekked to the computer lab, where I found a long line of students with fingers itching to play keyboard. My mind was set on chatting with my on-line boyfriend, R2D2.

The internet is becoming America's latest addiction, especially on college campuses, which frequently offer free e-mail accounts and easy access. The "Just Say No" to sex, drugs and alcohol may soon include e-mail and surfing the information superhighway. Soon CA (Cyberaddicts Anonymous) may be added to AA. I quit in time; others aren't so lucky.

Cyber addicts are easy to spot. They sit for hours in front of a screen, laughing, talking and smiling. They proudly tell you they consume four hours a day on the internet, socializing with the likes of KillBarney. Forget study.

When asked what she would do if the school took away her internet access, junior Petrea Mitchell turned pale. "I'd have to get a life."

Others say they would buy a modem. All they would have to do is log on to the school's system, still free of cost.

The temptation to enter cyberspace is great. Logging onto the IRC allows you to chat with as many as 30 people simultaneously. There are hundreds of news groups where the latest movies are debated, the psychology of body art dissected and Camille Paglia and Rush Limbaugh bashed.

Instant friendships can be struck in places as far away as Australia and Africa through soc.penpals. Love at first byte is always a possibility. For a generation accustomed to fast music and fast food, the internet seems a perfect match.

But cyber surfing nine or 10 hours a day and on into the night can produce carpal-tunnel syndrome and a falling grade point average. There are always one or two such addicts in the lab. If you wave to them, they react as if you are a figment of virtual reality.

Paradoxically, these students become so connected to the world of information they disconnect from their own environment. They lose friends, give up school activities, student government or sports. Many lock themselves in dorm rooms, coffin-style.

Bill Henderson, president of the Lead Pencil Club, which aims to put a pothole in the information superhighway, thinks that giving college students free internet accounts is "a total horror."

If colleges charged for internet use on an hourly basis, or if accounts were dispensed according to need and hours were limited, abuse, or addiction, could be diminished.

As seemingly great as free access on the information superhighway may seem to prospective students and their parents, the dangers and damage it can cause often outweigh the positives.

So here's some advice from an ex-cyber addict. Think twice before entering the maddening, tempting and addictive world of cyberspace. Logging on is easy, but logging off is a whole other story.*

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