Caught In The Net is published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (ISBN 0-471
19159-0, 250 pages, $22.95 hard cover.) It is available in book stores. It can be ordered
from the publisher. 1-800 225-5945
The Internet is a man-made wonder. It enables computers that are geographically
dispersed to rapidly obtain data and services from each other at relatively low cost. For
less than a dollar a day, a person with a computer in Brooklyn can see a page or obtain
services from a computer in Australia, New Zealand, almost anywhere.
This is taking contemporary society by storm.
- So far, over 57 million Americans are on line, out of a population of 270 million.
- The worldwide web contains over 300 million pages that are subject to change at any
time. They are hosted by more than 2.6 million independent sites. These numbers are
- It took radio thirty years to reach fifty million people, while TV needed only thirteen
years. The Internet did it in only four years.
- Traffic on the net doubles every one-hundred days.
Our culture bombards us with messages that urges everyone to embrace this new tool.
Were assured that it will only improve and enrich our lives. School administrators
and politicians, eager to demonstrate their aggressive support of education, tout the
Internet as a primary educational tool for children. Under the current E-rate program, the
Federal Government is adding four-percent to your phone bill and is channeling some of
these funds to help bring the Internet into schools and libraries that apply for them.
The following definitions are almost as basic as the three Rs:
- Computers equal progress.
- The Internet equals the cutting edge of progress.
This affair with the worldwide web is the product of a social and cultural evolution
whose engine is fueled mostly by passion and self-interest. It is an engine with few
Dr. Kimberly Young is a psychologist whose specialty is Internet addiction. Her book is
a somber collection of insights and experiences that expose the dark side of Cyberspace.
It is a log of what can and has happened to members of a society that doesnt always
look before it leaps.
A Paraphrased Synopsis
In her casebook, marriage partners describe patterns of secrecy and lies, arguments and
broken agreements, often culminating in a mate running off to live with someone he/she
knew only through the Internet. Parents tell sad stories of children who went from
straight As to the brink of failure after discovering chat rooms and interactive
games that kept them up all night. People lament over a friends total loss of interest in
once-treasured hobbies, movies, parties, visiting, talking over dinner, or almost anything
else in what the excessive Internet user would call RL, or Real Life.
When you consider the entire worldwide web population, she acknowledges that her
examples of abuse represent an extreme. Many people are turning to the Internet for useful
purposes without getting hooked - so far anyway. However, experience has shown her that
the progression from casual and appropriate usage to a time-consuming annoyance, to a
disturbing obsession, to extreme, disruptive, and dangerous behavior moves swiftly and
Dr. Young provides pragmatic, self-help suggestions for recovery.
For the mental health professional, she provides many insights into the nature and
causes of this affliction. Given that many of her colleagues dont even know how the
Internet works, its difficult for them to understand what makes this technology so
intoxicating or how to help someone manage its usage. For the uninformed, its easy to
dismiss the idea of Internet addiction. At every lecture she can count on at least one
skeptic to say, "No one can possibly get addicted to a machine."
Her initial user survey on Internet abuse included the following question: "Do you
continue to use the Internet excessively despite significant problems it may be causing in
your real life?" A shocking sixty-eight percent of the respondents said yes. The most
striking reason for this response was that obsessive Internet users innocently and
honestly believe their Net-related problems are only temporary.
After all, the problems just arrived in their lives. They therefore assume that the
problems will leave as quickly as they came on. So, if grades shoot down in one semester,
they can vault backup next semester with just a little adjustment of Net habits. If a boss
gets suspicious about wanderings down the information super-highway this week, the
employee will cool it a bit and be back in her/his good graces by next week. If a surfer
looses sleep now, he/she can catch up on the weekend. If a wife complains about a
spouses on-line flirting today, shell find something new to complain about
Bringing the Internet into a home requires a family to define or make reference to its
standards of safety. A home that is based on the Torah and its standards has little
tolerance for risk, especially of the above natures.
Lets have a look at some of Dr. Youngs findings.
97% of the respondents to her survey reported that they found themselves spending
longer periods of time on-line than they intended. Unlike TV, with programs and
commercials scheduled at regular intervals, time seems to stand still for a person that is
on the Internet.
Many abusers suffer from sleep exhaustion. This takes its toll on health, grades,
employment, marriage, and/or family. (Dr. Young has yet to include prayer and Torah
Of the numerous problems cited, a task force on electronic commerce appointed by
President Clinton revealed that businesses advertising on the web routinely lure children
into volunteering their real names, addresses, and phone numbers in exchange for gifts of
T-shirts and CD players. In turn, many companies sell the names to others, leaving data on
these cybertots circulating throughout the unregulated web.
"Cyberspace is like a giant city with no police force," laments a police
officer in Lancaster Pennsylvania. The Internets interactive features plunk children
down in the middle of steamy streets that contain thousands of strangers who may, at any
click of the mouse, entice them into looking at dirty pictures, invite them to private
meetings, forward their personal information throughout cyberspace, or even urge them to
run away from home.
In a survey reported by USA Today, eighty-six percent of the responding teachers,
librarians, and computer coordinators believe that Internet usage by children does NOT
improve classroom performance.
Many colleges provide their students with unlimited access to the Internet. By doing
so, they are becoming major breeding grounds for Internet addiction. For example, the
dropout rate at Alfred University more than doubled. Provost W. Richard Ott saw no logical
explanation why so many students who arrived in college with SAT scores of 1,200 or higher
were failing so quickly. An in-house survey revealed that forty-three percent of these
dropouts had been staying up late at night logged onto the Internet, spending sixty hours
or more on-line each week.
A survey of one-hundred-fifty executives from the nations top 1,000 companies
revealed that fifty-five percent of all managers believe that the time spent surfing on
the Internet for non-business purposes is undermining their employees effectiveness
on the job. One major company tracked all traffic going across the net and discovered that
only twenty-three percent of the usage was business-related.
There are hundreds of Internet sites that provide their visitors with interactive
games, each with their own theme. They are highly addictive. A successful game player
writes that they "are like a religion to me and I am a god out there. I am respected.
I know that I am playing against other highly intelligent people, and developing the
winning strategies and getting stronger at the game gives me a great high."
Unfortunately, the increased self-esteem does not translate itself into better feelings
when the computer is turned off. Furthermore, the violence in many of these games brings
out buried emotions that can and have come to action.
In her book, "The Plug-In Drug," Marie Winn, who studied TV use among
children, points out: "In its facilitation of parental withdrawal from an active role
in socialization of their children, and in its replacement of family rituals and special
events, television has played an important role in the disintegration of the family."
Rather than becoming the technological savior of our times, the Internet just might be
emerging as the addiction of the millennium, surpassing even TV with its pervasive grip on
minds and souls.
For some people, the Internet has become a form of escape that allows them to
temporarily forget their problems. However, when they finally log off, the real-life
problems return and theyre even harder to endure. Depression deepens, loneliness
intensifies, and theres the added burden of guilt for neglecting spouse, family,
academic goals, employer, or standards for living. This propels the person into going
on-line even more often for even longer periods of time - to find a panacea for the
awakened painful feelings and to chase after the high they remembered from the
last walk through a chat room or a news group.
The Internet provides a faceless community, offering the illusion of companionship
without the demands of friendship. Many people enjoy bypassing the real effort it takes in
real life to form a connection with another person and keep it going for a significant
time. They thrive in the pinball-like environment of bouncing from one encounter to the
next, without having to reveal themselves fully in the beginning or stopping to say
goodbye when they leave.
In Dr. Youngs words, "The Internet can and has become a form of escape from
the hard work of being a human."
Given the above, can one afford the risks associated with bringing the Internet into a
home? Dr. Young is either unwilling or unable to keep the Internet from the family and
children. In her view, doing so would deprive children and their parents of opportunities
for new and exciting experiences. Not having the Internet in the home naively suggests
that children can be shielded from the temptations of the Internet indefinitely, which is
akin to believing that a child can be protected from all threats of drugs and violence in
our schools and streets.
Dr. Young is not ready to say no to children because she is not ready to say no to
their parents. She comes from a culture that is reluctant to impose safeguards. She is not
trained in the adage: "Tell the bee that we dont want your sting and we
dont want your honey."
The many anecdotes in her book bears grim testimony to the consequences of this
The book provides some detail on abuse that is not for unrestricted family reading.
Given our own standards, some sections need to be lightly skimmed, if not skipped
altogether. Nevertheless, it is an excellent resource for policy makers, providing balance
against the press for the Net.
Without a doubt, the Internet is "good for consumption, charming to the eyes,
alluring to make wise." Its seeking a foot hold in our community.
Prominent organizations and leaders have been petitioned to provide an endorsement for
KosherNet an Internet service provider who filters our much (but not all) of the
objectionable material. Computer technologists claim to have products that filter out
objectionable material. They have also been seeking endorsements from our leadership.
I do feel that those who need the Internet for business needs should avail themselves
of whatever protection these products provide. I believe that this is the opinion of the
majority of our Torah leadership.
Business management can get Information about KosherNet from www.TheKosher.Net.
However, Internet for family usage is a different matter.
From my perspective as a computer professional, I advise families to ignore these
claims. The technologies are simply too complex and they change too rapidly. Give the
child a computer with modem, a bit of determination, a friend that is with it, and parents
that are not highly knowledgeable about computers and he/she will be on-line in no time.
Although some degree of protection is better than none, I have advised that
endorsements for family usage be withheld for the following reasons. First, since these
products do not and can not block every negative influence, they can provide a false sense
of security to the novice computer user. Second, these endorsements can be misread to
sanction wasting time and seeking amusement on the Internet. Third, because computer
technology is very complex, it changes rapidly, and it requires special expertise to be
properly evaluated, our leadership is not in a position to endorse computer products.
Finally, Internet usage can quickly and silently become addictive. None of these products
address the risk of Internet addiction.
The above advice is not for every family situation. There may be exceptional
circumstances when Torah guidance advises a family to obtain access to the world wide web.
If Internet is in the home, the family must actively manage the risks and dangers. In
these cases, some protection is better than none and I would strongly recommend a
I heard an Internet executive say that Internet involvement for our community is
inevitable. He claimed that most financial transactions will soon be on-line and whoever
will be off-line will be at a disadvantage.
I agree that the usage of Internet for financial transactions will become commonplace.
However, a very significant percentage of our population is computer-shy and
computer-less. It will take at least one lifetime before Western civilization ceases to
accommodate these people. Yes, those without on-line connectivity will probably get
surcharged a bit for making the bill-collectors do their data entry. I guestimate this to
be a hundred dollars each year. However, this is far less than what the net-connected home
will have to pay for the connection, the software, the hardware, and the aggravation when
something doesnt work.
Many Torah oriented families are purchasing home computers for which I suggest the
- The family computer should be situated in an open area.
- Phone systems should be installed in a way that a parent or spouse knows when the lines
are in use.
- Software should not be installed without a parents knowledge and permission.
A number of families have a computer with a modem but it is only used to access
electronic mail services. I am not in a position to endorse or to discourage this
practice. However, the following must be kept in mind.
- Software for full Internet access is readily available for this system.
- E-mail addresses are frequently sold, especially by companies that provide free e-mail
services. These companies harvest the addresses of the sender and the addressee. This
means that subscribers and their correspondents are subject to receive junk mail of all
types, including the most shocking and objectionable solicitations.
Therefore if there is e-mail in the home:
- E-mail must be managed and monitored by parents.
- Passwords should not be disclosed to children. Do not write your password down anywhere.
The kids know where to look for them.
- Objectionable e-mail must be fully deleted, not moved to an area where it can be later
- When accessing e-mail, avoid using software that can be used to surf the web, such as a
browser. Instead, use software that only provides e-mail support, such as Eudora.
Businesses who need the Internet should use products that provide filtering. Business
management needs to monitor Internet usage. There are commercial products that support
this function for enterprises.
Internet sites typically provide textual and graphical material. As a safeguard, one
can set up the computer software that displays the web pages to just show the text. The
page comes up faster without the graphics. Also, selected images can still be displayed.
Sources of necessary information, enrichment, and relaxation other than that which the
Internet provides are readily available. They must be pursued for our families, despite
the possibility of inconvenience and cost.