Once I wrote a blog in which I presented the results of a study by Susan Greenfield that the Internet can make us insensitive to what we do to others. On line we do not see the emotions we arouse in others when we hurt them, and in the long run this can make that we get less empathy with what we do to others, also outside the world of the Internet (see my blog dated April 25, 2011). In this sense the Internet creates first its own virtual world, and then this virtual world can change the real world. But there is more in this world of virtual social relations. I wonder whether it has anything to do with another effect of the Internet: that Internet relationships keep us insatiate. I think that everybody knows the phenomenon, if not from personal experience than from hearsay: people are addicted to Facebook, Twitter or another social network. They use it continuously at home, in the train, at work. When they are using a computer, they have it on the background and they check it every now and then, if not more often. The more “friends” they have the better it is. The essence of how it works in the brain is this: When we connect with people in real life, our brain produces the hormones oxytocin and seratonin in, what we could call, the social connection circuitry in our brain. These hormones are a reward for us and make that we calm down and finally become satisfied, even to that extent that after visiting a conference, for instance, we tend to avoid other people for some time. However, when connecting with people on the Internet, we tend not to get these hormones, with the result that we just want to have more virtual social connections. As a consequence we can become addicted to social network websites. (see David Rock, “Are Our Minds Going the Way of Our Waists?”
So far, so good and if that was all there is, it needn’t to be bad. Why would it? The problem is, however, that things never come alone. And besides that, if we do one thing, we cannot do something else, and as Rock points out, too much social seeking is not good for us. With Facebook or another website on the background when working, there is the risk of constantly being distracted, which will lead to a lesser quality of our work, and a drop of our IQ of, say, 15 points. However, I wonder whether the latter is really what happens: I guess that the score on the IQ test is worse; not the IQ as such (and who knows; maybe the social IQ is increased). But what makes me relate the fact that Internet contacts can make us feel insatiate and therefore addicted to them on the one hand and the possible loss of the feeling of empathy in Internet contacts on the other hand is this, and I think it is worrying: What if both go together? I mean, people become blunt when hurting others on the Internet and they stay insatiate when doing this. Then, eventually, they might become addicted to virtual hurting. But is this typical for the Internet? Isn’t it so that these things also happen in real life? That’s true, but the difference is that in real life generally it is easier to control and stop persons with “bad habits” than lonely agents in a virtual world, especially when everybody has the means of access to this world.