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Are We Creating Internet Introverts?

Culture: Our children need to be out in the real world.

May 03, 1996|MICHAEL SHULMAN | Michael Shulman is a writer based in Maryland. His e-mail address is

There is a dark side of the Internet, a side beyond the issues of censorship and copyright protections. It's what happens to people who spend 12 hours a day scrolling and chatting and downloading, isolated from people, from social functions, from the breeze of a spring day, the touch of Grandma's hand or the cold of Spot's nose.

Forget the weirdos and political posturing. We are in danger of creating a generation of Internet introverts.

Internet introverts are not computer nerds. Computer nerds are people whose social existence revolves around computers. Internet introverts are socially dysfunctional; they write online, talk online, view the world from online, order books and pizza online. They use a cloak of computer-based anonymity to say what they want, view what they want, read what they want. They replace the day-to-day obligations created by social mores with the world they find inside a personal computer. Their numbers are growing as access to the online world increases.

A social phenomenon, very different from the social or real world, is birthing itself online. So we'd best pass judgment now: Let's stop the creation of new Internet introverts, one at a time.

I am online, and have been since 1985. I do research, correspond, buy books and occasionally I just roam the Net. I have twin 4-year-old sons who love to play on the computer when I allow it, which is no more than two hours a week in half hour sessions. Why? Because they are kids and should be out roughhousing, touching, experiencing the real world.

In a few years, the online world for consumers will have voice and video, which will reverse the current paradigm and force introverts to show their faces.

In the interim, vigilance against creating new introverts means more involvement by parents. Vigilance means learning about the Net. It means doing the two hardest things to do: setting limits and finding time to do yet another thing with our children.

This vigilance must be better than what we have mustered so far. The online world isn't like a VCR that only plays tapes we rent or we buy; it is not a place where our laziness allows our children to watch things they know are, for the most part, "pretend." The Internet is an alternative world, an artificial, nontactile place that defies years of human evolution. It's a world and society where the endgame, for some, is a one-dimensional party that feels better than the real, more loving and more frightening world outside.

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