Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Internet Psychology with Dr. Katie Miley

I spend a lot of time online. In fact for a while I made a living solely on the Internet. I love the idea of the Internet, it works. For sharing information, entertainment, 'meeting' people, selling more products, showing Grandma the Christmas pictures, etc. You get my point. I was a geek as a kid, I'm a geek as an adult. I got my first AOL account when I was 14, and yeah I admit it changed me. At first it was chat rooms (does teen chat still exist?), then it was Internet Relay Chat and Internet Explorer.

The Internet changed things, this is nothing new. I grew up playing hockey after school then spending all night in front of my computer. There are times these days when I step away from the computer. I look back on my life and wonder how being so involved with technology both professionally and personally affected me. Instead of going on with an introspective blog post I decided to send out a tweet asking for a professional opinion. Now, I'm not a journalist. Outside of a 10th grade English project I've never conducted any type of interview. I tried to come up with a few questions that would cover several bases of my curiosity, as well as hopefully provide some insight in to a society that's becoming more involved on the Internet, specifically social networks.

Dr. Katie Miley responded to my request, here's what she had to say in response to the questions I emailed her:
Fred: In regard to processing information online and offline, and how one relates to the individual. If people are 'cool' online, do they view themselves differently?

Dr. Katie Miley: This is a complex question and one has to decide if people really show their "true" selves online. Obviously, Second Life is a way that people expand the world of role-play. A psychologist might argue that we reveal our personality even when we think we are hiding it. There is little research in this area. While someone might take some satisfaction that they are projecting a better self online, it becomes much like dating. Anyone can be on their best behavior on the first date, when the relationship becomes more intense it's harder to keep up an act. I suspect that online behavior may offer some parallels.

Fred: In regard to the human effect of being part of a social network and what is healthy. Does having followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook make people less lonely, and is it healthy?

Dr. Katie Miley: When a mental health professional speaks of the benefits of being part of a social network, they mean a network that can offer mutual aid and comfort. It's the practical help of a casserole when your parent dies or a extra pair of hands when the basement floods. Can Twitter/ Facebook really purport to offer that? Yes, folks can send supportive messages, but it is not the same as having face to face human contact and support. If you distort your view of followers to think they are equivalent to more intimate human connections, you could be setting yourself up for a terrible disappointment.

Fred: Does 'living online' affect real life interactions with co-workers, significant others, or friends?

Dr. Katie Miley: Depends. If by "living online" you mean spending so much time online that it begins to crowd out those real connections one needs in life, you can reference the growing field of literature in internet addiction.

Fred: Could a person use social networking as a coping skill? Does it help or hinder?

Dr. Katie Miley: Yes. It depends. If you use social networking as an addition to your other face to face networks, it could be very helpful. It may help you connect to a wider network of people with shared interests or concerns. Imagine the potential for someone with a rare medical condition. Even in a large metropolitan area, there may only be a handful of people to form a support group and share valuable information. The potential online is much more powerful.

Fred: As more and more people become part of social networking, do you think it's important for people to unplug? Is there any type of moderation you would recommend?

Dr. Katie Miley: Absolutely! As my own mother would say, "All good things in moderation." Just as I would guide someone to explore whether alcohol or other substance use is problematic; you look at the consequences. When a partner or family member starts to complain or other life responsibilities start to slip in favor of time spent online, it's definitely time to "unplug".

Fred: Younger people seem to have a big presence on social networking web sites such as Facebook and Myspace, do you think this will create a skewed perspective of the world as it compares to their local communities for these young people as they enter the work force?

Dr. Katie Miley: Yes. See the growing literature regarding work issues for Gen Y. It usually addresses this issue specifically. For example:

Fred: Over the last 10 years have you seen any positive or negative effects on people that significantly correlates to their use of the internet?

Dr. Katie Miley: Some of the negative impact are closely related to the emergence of "internet addiction". A substantial subset of the literature in this area explores the online explosion of compulsive viewing of porn. I would argue that this is the biggest negative. The numbers of people potentially jeopardizing their jobs and intimate relationships is staggering.

On the positive side, the explosion of information that is available has tremendous potential for good. I currently teach online. I was barely familiar with this idea 10 years ago. The opportunities to open the playing field to those who haven't had as much access to higher ed is a significant positive.

Fred: Does 'Googling it' create laziness? (As it pertains to expanding one's knowledge and the lengths they go to obtain that knowledge)

Dr. Katie Miley: Yes, but you're asking someone who teaches online. I expect students to search the university library and not Google.
A lot of what Dr. Miley said resonated with me as I read it. From the very first time I went online until recently, I've had what can only be described as binge sessions. I have to admit her parallel to substance abuse scared me a little! I really enjoyed her comparison of an online image being equated to a first date. I do wonder though if people who have a lot of Internet friends, if at what level they equate them to real friends. For me, I have a few 'Internet' friends I'd just call friends. But that begs the question, Am I friends with them? Or their digital representation?

Does 500 myspace friends (which I don't have) ever equate to a pat on the back? I guess it depends on personal perspective, the professional opinion above can be your own food for thought.

The information Dr. Miley referred to regarding Generation Y frankly put a bit of a scare in me. Will a bunch of Internet addicted Google dependant students be ready to face this recession and help perpetuate our economy?

Dr. Kaite Miley holds a Pys. D. in Clinical Psychology and has over 20 years of experience helping people transform their lives. You can find her on Twitter, Dr. Katie Miley's web site and Dr. Katie Miley's blog.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting post and I agree with much of what Dr Miley says. However, a recent meta-review of the literature on Internet Addiction suggests we are over-stating the case probably. Definitions of Internet Addiction vary so widely in the literature that it is impossible to really say if it actually exists. There is of course the theoretical possibility, but before we start getting to energised about it the psychological community needs to agree on a definition.