A blog about Cyberculture and ICTs.

Archive for May, 2008


Posted by candacewhitehead on May 26, 2008

I’m addicted to a number of things – my cellphone, being the main one – but according to the Internet Addiction Test, I’m not addicted to the Internet – yet.


What started out as a hoax has become a chilling reality – although according to psychologist John M Grohol it is not a recognised disorder. However, more and more psychologists are being trained to identify and deal with Internet addiction.


Internet addiction can basically be defined as a compulsive disorder, which, like any other addiction, has a massive impact on the individual’s work and personal life. The Internet takes preference over other friends, family and colleagues – and without their daily “fix”, addicts experience withdrawal, which may include tremors and anxiety. Some patients even report suffering nervous breakdowns when they can’t go online.


Internet addiction can be further subcategorised into addiction to online gaming, porn, cybersex, compulsive surfing and eBay addiction. These have real effects on people, and Internet sites (oh the irony) have been set up to provide information for sufferers, attorneys and psychologists.  


Most psychologists do not recognise Internet addiction as a real problem yet. An article by psychologist John M Grohol written in 1999 and revised in 2005 – “The Internet Addiction Guide” claims that Internet addiction can be relegated into the same categories as watching too much TV or reading too many books – basically, too much escapism as a result of depression or other psychological disorders.


While I can see the merit in this argument, I disagree – I have seen people become physically addicted to chat sites, forums and even Facebook. These people sit on the Internet until all hours of the night, too scared to move from their desk in case something happens online and they miss it. They begin to neglect their friends, their family and even their professional life – an effect something like alcoholism might have. How then can this not be seen as a real disorder?


Like many other addictions, it seems that young people (children and teenagers) are most at risk of developing an addiction. Adolescents who are socially awkward are most at risk, which is logical to me. It is much easier to spend all your time online, most likely being someone else, than it is to deal with the “real world” – and I addressed something similar to this in my first blog post. But where to draw the line, and how to treat it?


Clearly it is impractical to go cold turkey and ban the use of the Internet entirely. The majority of the professional world makes use of the Internet for communication and research, so to say to your boss “I’m sorry, because of my Internet addiction I’m not allowed to use the Internet, could you rather get Jones to do it?” might lose you your job. Dr Kimberley Young, who maintains suggests that like an eating disorder, the key to beating Internet addiction is to develop a healthy pattern of consumption. She also suggests treatment either as an inpatient or an outpatient – and counselling for you and your family should be arranged. Self-help groups may also be beneficial.


Next time you see that the same person has been on Facebook from when you signed in at nine in the morning to when you check your last inbox message at four am, don’t be so quick to write them off as being a loser. They are potentially suffering from addiction – as you might be. Hey, it’s not just me that compulsively checks their e-mail twenty times a day.


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Talking points

Posted by candacewhitehead on May 21, 2008

One of my first modules in my Linguistics class in first year was language change and variation. The lecturer suggested that in a matter of years written language could have moved from what we know today to shorthand “SMS” speak. Tracey has discussed this in her blog, so I won’t go into too much detail about it.


Much of what we consider “SMS” speak has developed from the language of the Internet – shorthand written language is extremely common in chat rooms, on forums and over instant messengers (IMs). And that has crept into the language that we use today – phrases such as LOL, WTF and pwned are all products of the Internet.


(And I won’t even go into l33t)


Language, as many linguists will tell you, develops differently according to the social group it operates in. All social groups may develop their own slang, catch-phrases or secret meanings in their speech. Eventually, accents and pronunciation may alter, turning their speech into a different dialect of a particular language.


The same is true of the language of the Internet, on a much larger scale, of course. Research has shown that the most common language of the Internet is English, with most Internet users utilising it for their websites, MySpace pages, IMs and forum personas.


Just as language develops and changes in certain groups and in certain contexts, the language of the Internet has changed, too, marking serious Internet users by the language that they use. For example, it is easy to tell who is a forum n00b by the language that they use. And, like most other groups, the n00b is ostracised until he or she can prove themselves to the larger community, at which time their n00b status may be revoked.

Kind of sounds like high school, but I digress.


Even the use of emoticons (what many people fondly refer to as “smileys”) can be considered an aspect of language use on the Internet (or, as my more computer-savvy friends assure me is the new catch phrase “the Interwebz”). I know people who have had entire conversations with just smileys, and maybe one or two words. 


What does this mean for English, then? Millions of people are on the Internet everyday, altering their language from “I laughed out loud when I saw that she had beaten him” to “I LOLed when she pwned him”.


Linguistic precedent would suggest that the fact that this is happening in Internet language usage now will eventually have an impact on English as a whole. Could this be seen as a development or a regression of the language? The general opinion seems to be that it is a regression. It seems to reduce English to a base form, removing some of the beauty of our language. This has been happening for generations though – slang has always been seen as a degradation of the language – and interestingly enough, some slang from the past has made its way to be accepted forms of our language.


What is most interesting, of course, is that where other languages develop from constant physical interaction with individuals of the same social group, the Internet does not have this. Much of the development of the language on the Internet has come from the written language of forum posts, blogs, IMs and chat rooms.


Internet society, like other social groups, has taken on a large number of its own characteristics, the most obvious of these being their language use. In the next few weeks, I’m going to start looking at the Internet as a social group, and how it could potentially develop to affect even non-users of the Internet.


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All I really want

Posted by candacewhitehead on May 12, 2008

My computer has a virus. Well, more than one. In fact, my antivirus claims to have picked up 8 849 infiltrations. And the first thing I thought – WHY would anyone want to write a virus?


I found an article asking the same question, and providing a more comprehensive answer than “because they’re bored/socially challenged/evil”, which were some of the responses I got when asking what people thought.


Basically the article suggests that people create viruses

  • To take control of a computer and use it for specific tasks
  • To generate money
  • To steal sensitive information (credit card numbers, passwords, personal details, data etc.)
  • To prove a point, to prove it can be done, to prove ones skill or for revenge purposes
  • To cripple a computer or network

One of these fascinated me – I could see the potential for all of the others, but I was interested in the penultimate point – to prove a point, or for revenge purposes. This is the one that contributes most to the stereotype of virus-creators. The example given is of the “MS.Blaster” virus. When it got itself onto your machine, it displayed two messages “I just want to say I LOVE YOU SAN” and “Billy gates why do you make this possible? Stop making money and fix your software!” This, supposedly, was to show how easily exploitable Windows is. And it worked. And possibly embarrassed the hell out of San.


This is the online version of sticking super-glue on the seat of the class bully after they teased you on the playground. It doesn’t permanently hurt them, it’s really irritating, and it makes them mad enough to come find you on the playground the next day. So why do it?


If the person who wrote the virus were to have marched into Microsoft and said “Your new software sucks, fix it”, they would have been thrown out the door in ten minutes flat. The executives would have politely laughed, had the poor sod quietly escorted out, and carried on congratulating themselves at how clever they were.


Instead, the virus-creator goes home and whips up a code that does not only show Microsoft how crap their latest OS is, but also shows millions of other people how easily it can be bypassed.


It is still annoying removing the other 8000 viruses that were created for the other purposes on the list. Fortunately, there has been very little visible damage to my computer – and I don’t have a credit card, or do Internet banking without my antivirus.


Point proven.


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We don’t need to whisper

Posted by candacewhitehead on May 5, 2008

Over dinner last night, some friends and I were discussing the merit of the Internet in helping us with our studies.


After hitting on the fact that at some point, all of us had used “Ctrl F” in order to find a relevant passage in a 300 page online journal, we began debating the pros and cons of the existence of the Internet in assisting with students’ studies – university students, in particular. And with this – the fact that for a large number of people coming into university, Wikipedia is the be all and end all for referencing


I found an interesting article – “University professor says Wikipedia fosters a climate of blind trust” in my research for today’s post.  This Professor Lichtenstein picked up what we were discussing over dinner – that people blindly trust the information placed on Wikipedia. Crazy, I tell you.


What terrifies me about Wikipedia is the way in which it invites you – the ordinary user – to input its information. Now, according to Niko Pfund, an Oxford University Press Publisher, the Oxford English Dictionary also had its roots in a wiki model – obviously in the days of the OED, they weren’t web pages, but you get the drift. According to Pfund:

Oxford English Dictionary, arguably the greatest reference work in the English language (and certainly the greatest reference work about the English language) found its origins in a wiki model, whereby scholars put out the word to English speakers far and wide that they would welcome hard evidence of the earliest appearances of English words.


Which is fine, really. But in my opinion, language is fluid and changeable, and open to interpretation. But facts are, well, solid. Unchangeable (for the most part).


Doing research for an article I was editing a few weeks ago, I decided to check on Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s birthdate. Just to be sure. And lo and behold – the date this writer had put in was pulled off Wikipedia – and was out by a year.


And because of the number of times Wikipedia is accessed a day (in 2002 Wikipedia was receiving up to 12 000 hits an hour) once this information is put up, it’s most likely going to be picked up by hundreds of people in the first hour.


I can see the beauty of Wikipedia as a starting point – follow the links to the websites cited and all of that – but isn’t this laziness? Logging on to one website and having the rest of your essay references placed neatly into your lap? I suppose this is the one of the reasons that some departments at Rhodes insist on a number of printed (those things that we call “books”) references in your list of works cited.


I believe that web searches have their merits, of course. I can’t deny that the Internet provides us with a wealth of information that we would not otherwise have access too. But I’m a traditionalist. I struggle to trust information placed on the web, unless it’s strongly affiliated to a decent institution, or in the form of a web book.


Gone are the days that people spend hours pouring over books in the library, risking paper cuts and dust allergies, and the wrath of the librarian hidden behind the Dickens shelf. Instead, people Google the relevant keywords of their essay topic and take the first five or so sites list.


The first of those being Wikipedia. 

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