The normal developmental process of a teenager is built upon a mastery of their bodies, their minds, and their environment. This process known as adolescence is essential to the development of a healthy sense of self, and the ability to successfully interact with themselves and their environment. In this paper I will examine the lives of 2 teenagers who substituted some of the traditional roles of adolescence with computers and the Internet as their primary link to the world, with disastrous results.
A computer is just a tool. When software is loaded, the computer performs a task. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this. A solitary computer while individually powerful has very little interaction with anyone beside its primary user. It is only when a computer is connected to the Internet does it truly appeal to a teenager. Once connected to the Internet the computer enables a teenager to take advantage of all the myriad communication outlets available. These outlets cover a huge variety of interests and technical implementations from MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer On-Line Role Playing Games) to simpler chat systems like IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and MUDS/MOO (Multi User Dungeon/MUD Object Oriented) to AOL’s family of real-time chat systems (Instant Messenger, ICQ). Besides these fairly well known applications, there are dozens of other software applications designed to permit users to communicate in almost any conceivable technical manner in almost any combination of race, age, gender or era. It is by using this infinite variety of possibilities that a teenager can substitute the normal process of adolescence
A computer, like a teenager, needs to learn how to perform a task. In a computer, the process of learning is called programming. In a teenager the process is called socialization. A computer is programmed by creating a series of machine language instructions that are executed by the computer’s microprocessor. Normally, however a computer is programmed through the use of a high level language such as C, or C++. This high level language abstracts the internal hardware of the machine such that the learning curve is easier to surmount. Another piece of software called the compiler accepts inputs from a high level language and outputs machine language code ready to be run.
A teenager is programmed by their interactions with themselves, their peers and their own environment. The normal healthy interaction between a person and their environment is a cyclical process that is built on constant feedback, awareness and validation of this environment. Howard Gardener describes life and learning as a series of multidisciplinary plateaus, and that each plateau has a certain amount of experience that must be achieved before reaching the next plateau. Regardless of which intellectual discipline is the strongest this process of challenging, meeting the challenging, and reaching a new level is a positive feedback loop, one that is strengthened over the course of a life. This is the manner in which teenagers are socialized with how to deal with their environment
Normally, introducing a computer into the life of a teenager is a fairly benign occurrence. A teenager can use it for homework, for recreation, for chatting with friends and for a number of other applications that have yet to be written. However, if this teenager is suffering from a lack of self-esteem, self-confidence, and assertiveness; the opportunity to interact with other people using any of the previously mentioned methods seems like an incredible opportunity. This computing device becomes a portal to communicate with other people in much the same way the telephone was a generation ago. This computer will encourage the teenager to personify it, to idolize it, and to treat it like a friend. The computer acts as a best friend and confidant that is always with them when they search for interaction with others. The normal process of success and failure that is normally supplied by the teenage environment is replaced with a constant stream of validation that is supplied via the computer. It will also encourage the teenager to impose his or her will on it, and to remake the computer in his or her own image. If a teenager has an obsession for Anime characters, then it is very likely their computer will be named accordingly. If the teenager has a crush for a particular media icon then it is very likely that the machine will display images of this person as the wallpaper.
The computer acts as combination foster parent, companion, and best friend that will not harass the teenager about any of their sensitive issues or attack their self esteem, and will not force them to socialize with anyone, until they want to. The normal social circumstances of a teenager are such that it is uncomfortable to go out and meet people. If this teenager has any issues with his self-confidence or his self-esteem he will find it absolutely impossible to make the effort to break free of the computer and interact with the world. Instead of having a series of learning plateaus in interacting with others and making a large number of mistakes, they avoid all of the mistakes that teach the meaning of failure and success. The computer acts as a crutch and enables a teenager to continue to interact on a deeper level while never gaining the self-confidence and understanding from earlier successes to enable him to succeed. Even in the cases where the teenager manages to succeed at interacting with others, their sense of accomplishment and reward is likely to be limited.
During the research for this paper, I discovered a number of correlations between a lack of self-confidence and excessive computer use by a teenager. The teenager will have very low self-confidence, and will be plagued by feelings of insecurity, loss, regret, anger, hatred and will generally dislike being around anyone who isn’t a computer, or who hasn’t had the same experience as them.
My interviews of the subjects seems to indicate that they are very poorly educated as they tended to avoid the structure of regular academic assignments to pursue what they felt like doing. “While they may have a great knowledge of their individual subject, they rarely achieve any deep understanding of it.” (Gardener)
It appears that as a side effect of imposing their will onto this device for so many years has left a predisposition towards sadomasochistic violence against the opposite sex. If the teenager was a male, then he almost certainly possessed electronic pornographic images of females being bound, tortured, or killed. If the teenager was a female, then she would have images of transgender, or feminized men catering to her every need. The image of demasculated men, was one that held particular attraction to her.
The final observation that I noted of all the subjects was the incredible difficulty interacting with anyone that wasn’t a computer.
“Real life people would say I am quiet and reserved. Online people would describe me as bizarre and probably an asshole. Do you find that your exposure to talking to people online has helped or hindered your ability to relate to people? Hindered my ability to relate to people I don't meet online. Gibbler”
“Depends on who's describing me; I'm far more extroverted among people like myself (programmers, gamers, others with shared interests.) I'm not quite introverted among other types of people--I just don't have much to say, and this probably comes across as introversion. RevZ00T”
“Do you find that your exposure to talking to people online has helped or hindered your ability to relate to people?
“I couldn't say, since I've been talking to people online for almost as long as I can remember. It's probably had a major part in the above, though. RevZ00T”
“Eh, not for the most part. I can deal with people, even though I really don't want to (is that a problem?). When it comes to dealing with women on any personal level, forget about it. It is something that I have no experience in, coupled with something I have no intrest in, creates something that I am at unease about. Dipstick”
“Many things, because I tend to always change my personality to fit a situation. I seem stupid to some, a jerk to others, suave. Some people tend to think I am mean, though. But I always try to be polite.—Jim.”
I interviewed a number of subjects for this paper, but I will only discuss 2 of them in detail. My first subject is a twenty-six year old male who is currently employed as a network engineer for an ISP. He prefers to be called g0d and would not release his real name. He is currently single, and is getting over the breakup with a woman that he appeared to care for very deeply. When asked if he had ever sought professional psychiatric help for any of his complaints, he stated that:
“He didn’t need no stupid fucking kyke bastards giving me prozac—g0d.”
He describes himself as extremely introverted. When he was out with his last girlfriend he said that they would fight because he would act like a clown, and that he did not know how to act in social situations. He said that it felt like he was being lead around, and he thought it was “cool.” He describes his early computer use as follows:
“I discovered computers at an early age. I remember very clearly sinking into them at the age of 12, and finding an avenue in them that I couldn’t find anywhere else. I found this wonderful machine that didn’t care that I was fat, and I that I sounded funny. I got into a lot of trouble for hacking into university computers and. I had a lot of things that I did, I was always collecting pornography, and working on whatever thing was new and illegal at the time. I liked to think that I was smarter than everyone else I knew, and it was fun. It was fun being an obnoxious braggart and being an asshole. I thought this was what I was supposed to be in life. My ignorant parents told me that I was smart kid, so I acted like a smart kid. I took it as a challenge to attack and abuse every authority figure that was set out to me. I found the way to do that through computers. I thought that this was the way that life was meant to be, until I met someone that proved me completely wrong. g0d”
“g0d” appeared to be convinced that he was intellectually superior to everyone he met and apparently had little problem finding legitimate and illegitimate work throughout his life. I asked him how he was able to pay for all the computers and hardware he owned and made various allusions about leading a life of a criminal mastermind. It would appeal to him being feared, and respected primarily because it was attention that was sorely missing in his personal life. It was difficult to tell when he was lying, or telling the truth because “g0d” appears to believe what he is saying. Has he become so used to imposing his will on this machine that he now believes that his will has manifested in the real world? Over the course of four interviews, I was subjected to a disturbing amount of pornographic material that he would provide as answers to my questions. He could be jocular at times, even funny, but if he made a joke, and I laughed at it too strongly he would get suspicious and think I was laughing at him.
I visited the place where “g0d” lives and it was a basement apartment somewhere in Manhattan. It was a small studio apartment with a kitchenette. The overwhelming noise of fans, and computer power supplies of computers was everywhere. There were pizza boxes on the floor, and the place was decorated in a style that can only be described as hacker-noir-meets-tornado. I had to walk around still unopened boxes of computer hardware, software and blank CD’s. He made numerous comments about having hacked DVD, Dreamcast, Sega, and PC hardware, and that he would decrypt software for fun. He did not believe that he could be caught or prosecuted for any of this because what he was doing was perfectly legal. If I would press him on this issue he would come up with a vague statement about his criminal abilities would always keep him one step away from the law.
My final conversation with “g0d” took place at a cafe on a recent Sunday in New York. He expressed being somewhat sorry for putting one of his “h4x04 p33pz” (Hacker friends) in the hospital after forcing him to drink too much at a bar. He continually repeated that he was sorry for what had happened to his girlfriend, and that he still loved her deeply. He looked pale, and had appeared to have lost some weight. He paid the tab with a hundred-dollar bill (for a $10.50 order) and scurried out. A few days later I received the following email from him.
“I am Mr. Ego and I am your best friend or at least I try to be. You can find me every morning in that subtle little voice that tells you every morning to keep sleeping a little bit more. Later when you wake up I tell you to take it easy that there is no hurry, lets have a long breakfast and enjoy ourselves. The day belongs to us.
Once you leave home and are in school or at work, I will ask you. What are you doing here? This is a waste of time and of course you will oblige me and will always try to accommodate me, leaving as soon as possible with the least attachment whether it be at work or at school.
Achievement is my worst enemy and often say that only losers are my followers. From the dawning of civilization I always prepared to dwell on weak minds. Persons with clear willpower, defined priorities and those who always manage to accomplish what they set on their hearts, do not get along with me at all.
I have to be in command; I do not leave room for reasoning, sense of direction in life, or purpose. I am in command, and when those poor souls complain of failure in life, I always show them to keep relaxed with alcohol or drugs. They are my followers and the only way they have to escape my control, is running away from me, not listening to my whisperings and keeping themselves busy all the time and beginning to enjoy the fruits and rewards of keeping busy and fruitful life.
However those are a select few the rest have no purpose in life. By the time they discovered their error it is just too late to go back to the past. Parents are not around anymore to support them, and they are totally handicapped in their relationships with other humans, since I forced them to be in isolation much of the time, and he or she does not know how to interact with others.
Usually I am associated with bad luck, depression, lack of friends, loneliness, or a possessed spirit.
How little humans know about me. I do not sleep. I am awake 24 hours a day. Certain mystics call me “The Mind” or the fantasy. I agree with them when they say that I am almost impossible to control. Lucky those who Lucky are those who know the secret of over imposing their will over my power.
They are called the enlightened ones. The ones who meditate about me; they strip me naked to my bare bones all the time looking for specific answers about where this road will lead me; if I follow your advice.
These enlightened ones, really put me on the spot and I have to behave very carefully with my answers to them, if I dare to give them a suggestion.
They are all highly disciplined persons. They usually get up in the morning, early at the same time as well as going to bed. They keep clear track of their actions and where those actions have taken them.
I have no room in their lives.” g0d
I have not heard from him since, and he has not replied to any of the emails that I have sent to his email address. In fact the email server is refusing to deliver them now, as it claims the account doesn’t exist. If “g0d” has indeed done something rash, he may be very difficult to track down.
My second interview subject was a 17 year old female who goes under the hacker alias “Trinitee.” Unfortunately she did not consent to be quoted in this paper. She is a female of Columbian descent who is currently in the United States on a student visa. She mentioned studying Computer Science in another year when she applies for college. She is currently involved in a steady relationship with a man 3 years her elder and confesses that she is really in love with him. She describes her interactions after coming to this country as very positive and that she dated numerous times since then.
She describes her family life as being troubled because there was always some kind of conflict between her mother and her father and her regarding various trivial issues. She distinctly recalled her father’s controlling behavior of her mother. She also mentioned that she had a tremendous number of problems in school and dealing with her parents who she thought did not love her. She said that she also spent an enormous amount of time online on IRC and made a lot of deviant friendships with strangers that resulted in a number of bizarre sexual activities at the early age of 12 and 13. She has no ambition to study and she described herself as a loser.
She said that her early interactions with the computers did not help her socialize when she emigrated to the United States as she did not have the skills to know when people were trying to take advantage of her. It was difficult for her to get used to the notion that people deliberately trying to take advantage of her because of her gender.
In a rare moment of parental unity, her parents sent her to study in the United States with the hope of helping her change her behavior. She related that it was a traumatizing experience coming to the United States at the age of 16 and having no immediate family with the exception of her aunt and uncle.
However, instead of having the immediate outlet of her computer and Internet access; Her aunt and uncle sent her to a regular high school and closely monitored her interaction with her friends. After 6 months of difficult acclimation she began to date and slowly began to understand the socialization associated with growing up as a teenager who had to interact with others based on who she really was, not who she pretended to be online.
In conclusion, I found that letting teenagers with any type of self-esteem or self-confidence problem having any type of unmonitored computer and Internet use was simply a recipe for disaster. “g0d” could have had the opportunity to lead a normal fulfilling life if his parents would taken the kind of risk that “Trinitee’s” parents did. It appears obvious that if “Trinitee” was not forced to interact with peers her own age she would have ended up in “g0d’s” shoes within a matter of years. Their story is a warning to future generations about the risks of unrestrained technological advancement among our young run amok.
The Disciplined Mind, What All Students Should Understand. Howard Gardener June 1, 2000
New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999. ISBN: 0684843242
The Hacker Jargon File. June 2, 2000
The Asheron’s Call Homepage., June 3, 2000
Slashdot: News for Nerds. June 9, 2000
The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. June 3, 2000
Ask Mynx?, July 25, 2000
Gibbler’s Page. June 19, 2000
Zanshin’s GLDojo. June 9, 2000
FrostyFX. June 19, 2000