Caught in the Web

I recently came across this paper about the Internet that I wrote during my second semester of college. Enjoy!

collage of many computer-related pictures and terms
Caught in the Web cover collage

For many, the Internet no longer exists as a pastime. Its presence has ceased to be a venue for occasional research and frolic. Online services have succeeded in capturing the minds and attentions of a new group of computer user, driving them to the edge. Yet, this phenomenon remains to the ignorant, unknowing, computer-illiterate majority a farce. To much of society, the net junkie is just a low-life computer geek. I argue that the extend of one’s computer knowledge no longer determines who could and does fall prey to the “siren song of the browser” (Dern 93) as the net is an addiction. Addiction being a medical term, I reason for the acceptance of netaholics as suffers of a serious, potentially life-destroying disorder.

The idea of Internet addiction did begin as a joke by New York psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg who posted an electronic message with a list of mock symptoms including involuntary, typing movements of the fingers, psychomotor agitation, anxiety and withdrawal at removal from the net for an extenuated period of time (Goldberg). However, many people responded that they do in fact exhibit these symptoms. Goldberg claims many people use the net because of a lack of social skills and especially to avoid problems in their lives (Garrison 20).

And hence, the addition rears its ugly head. As with any substance abuse problems or addictions, it is used to escape the troubles of the here and now. I spend nearly 99% of my time on the net as an escape from reality as do many of the friends I have met online. For hours on end, we stare at our monitors like many dead fish, absorbed in a fantasy role-playing game (RPG), DragonRealms. With the office door closed and our fingers clicking away at the keyboard, why bother to worry about fighting with our parents, our jobs or school work? We can become who we want to be; at least for the few hours we spend together in the evenings. And truth of the matter, I think we all know more people online than we do in real life! It is so much easier to speak with people when you do not have to look them in the eye or be yourself.

Much like alcohol or drugs, once one gets hooked, one needs more and more to find satisfaction. When most people first start using the Internet, also deemed one’s “newbie days,” initially they spend a long time trying to see everything at once. For most, this fascination wears off when they discover the net is either not for them or they become frustrated. For others, like myself, our time on the net increases because a three-hour hit is no longer enough for us to get a fix. Over the months, I’ve found myself drifting from signing on maybe an hour at a time every couple of days to spending an average of six or more hours daily at my terminal. The web is no longer a toy to us, but a place. As the founder of the Internet Addiction Association (IAA) states, “To the average non-internet user, ‘Cyberspace’ is nothing more than a mass of unorganized data, but to Netaholics, like myself, Cyberspace is viewed as a second home” (IAA). We can’t live without it because we live in it.

But all of this is not enough to deem excessive Internet use an addiction. I mean, plenty of people spend extensive time reading, bowling and watching soap operas. According to Viktor Brenner, a doctoral candidate of psychology at SUNYBuffalo, “Time spent in and of itself is not an indicator. It’s when spending that time becomes so engrossing that other things are ignored—then there’s a problem” (Pappas 28). Corporations face the problem every day of employees who spend more time surfing the net for their own enjoyment than working. Students spend study time hopping from web page to web page. Families become neglected and responsibilities ignored. This is when it all truly becomes an addiction, when the net controls your time and not you. The advent of personal Internet accounts that are unrelated to employment or school further enable those with enough stamina to spend hours and even days online, sometimes disconnecting barely enough to eat or sleep (Dern 94). I’ve lost nearly eight pounds as I have switched my sustenance from food to feeding off the net, and my parents believe the keyboard to be a prosthetic limb. (What do they look like again?)

photo of a guy in front of a computer monitor showing a graph of what employees are spending their time doing on the web. Number one is pornography.
What are employees doing on the web?

All in all, anyone can fall victim to the seductive time sinks of the net. Many people just get distracted and do not know when to stop. I believe it has almost nothing to do with whether one is a webmaster or a newbie because the net controls you psychologically. Brenner recently conducted a study based on a questionnaire he posted on the web. Out of 200 usable responses he reports, “The skewed distribution of scores supports the existence of a subgroup…whose Internet usage caused them more deficits in role functioning than the norm” (Dern 96). In other words, we do exist! I have heard so many sob stories from my cyberpals from those who cannot pay the rent this month because they have missed too much work due to extended net time to others who will simply not work or go to school because they cannot pull themselves away. Many of the people with whom I speak over the net are at work and not working. Statistical evidence from Brenner’s study includes that 30 percent of respondents have tried to cut down on their usage but have sorely failed (been there, done that), while 12 percent said virtually all the people they consider friends are online (“Whatever” 25).

I have yet to end up at the stage where I am running from phone booth to phone booth, searching for a place to plug in my laptop and sign-on because I have been evicted and lost my job. But please, they are out there, and they need help. Instead of discarding people with Internet Addiction Disorder, recognize that they need something to pull them away. When my parents or friends nag me about being on the net for hours and hours, that they never see me anymore, do you think that makes me want to come out and sign-off?! No. This is my escape, and frankly, I do not want to get off. WE need support groups for netaholics, not harsh words. We stay in our little electronic world of silicon, pixelated faces and flashing text voices because this is our safety zone. The world is cold and harsh, especially when all we get is hell because most people just don’t understand. Hug a netaholic; do not push one away because the Internet and the thought of the whole world going to computers scares you out of your wits. We’re scared too, but we’re ready.

Works Cited

Dern, Daniel P. “Just one more Click…” Computer World 8 Jul. 1996: 30(28) :93-96.

Garrison, Jayne, Patricia Long. “Getting off the Superhighway.” Health Oct. 1995: 9(6) :20-22.

Goldberg, Ivan. Internet Addiction Disorder. Online. Dialog.

Internet Addiction Association. Online. Dialog. 3 Mar. 1996.

Pappas, Charles. “Hooked on the Net.” Home Office Computing Jun. 1996: 14(6): 28.

“Whatever Happened to Face-to-Face Interface?” Men’s Fitness Sep. 1996: 25.

Two Years

Wow, it’s been two years since I started this project.

Most posts take a lot longer than I expected them to at the beginning. The amount of dissection, research, design suggestions and mock-ups required for even small issues end up being fairly in-depth. I’m glad I started this blog and I’ve found it very useful.

I started a companion Twitter feed as a way to disseminate my writing. It’s also good for the occasional quick design observation.

So much of what I do for work involves progressive updates to existing interfaces, rather than creating new designs. Looking at small pieces of other systems proves useful for exercising a critical eye for often overlooked elements and processes. At heart I’m an information architect (I did go to library school!) more than a designer.

This air freshener was in a bowl of candy at my vet’s office. I totally thought it was a dog treat. Context matters 🙂

photo of a dog face air freshener with the words fresher dog breath brought to you by Greenies
Fresher dog breath brought to you by Greenies

Women in Tech

Women in tech: the tortured topic of late, with tech companies floating around statistics trying to prove just how much they’ve increased diversity among their employees. Then there are the bros who don’t get it and probably never will, having been encouraged throughout school, coddled by ego and socialized into toxic male-centered careers some claim women aren’t designed to be good in—fields women have a hard time entering and staying in because of the blatant sexism, harassment and intolerance created through culture, not inherent to our biology.

Photo: Angelina Jolie in the movie Hackers

These perspectives crowd around a central question: Why are there so few women in tech? I don’t think we’re asking the right question or approaching this as the holistic, cultural problem for which low representation of women in some job fields are merely a symptom. We must recognize and accept for fact how depressed women are in the workforce, whatever the job—from fewer promotions, to the gender wage gap, to those deemed too feminine for men. Women struggle for equal footing and equal recognition of their talents, far and away from jobs traditionally considered by our society as male, and by proxy, much more important.

What is tech?

During the last decade, there has been a push for “more women and girls in tech”, yet there doesn’t seem to be a definitive list or definition of what that means. The acronym STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) is the buzzword of choice in trying to answer this question but does little more than further the divide between fields of study traditionally pursued by women—teaching, nursing, childcare—and jobs given higher prestige because they somehow fall under the STEM umbrella of those held by men in high quantities. The US Department of Education touts STEM as education for global leadership.

Rosie the riveter with a circuit board background

Image courtesy of Burlington Telecom

The disservice we do to girls now is to imply the only important or worthy pursuits are in these disciplines which have largely been structured and determined by men in the first place. It implies that the only way we women are going to make progress in the workplace is to bust up male-centric job fields. If a girl has an interest in one of these fields, she must have equal opportunity to pursue a career in it but not at the cost of discounting girls who have interests elsewhere. The economy would crumble if all women were in the narrow set of STEM fields.

How we encourage girls’ interests becomes the crux of this issue. Some men like to say it’s our fault there are fewer women in tech because we just aren’t interested in it. Not true! Most of us weren’t encouraged to explore “tech” interests. As example, I saw recently two shirts that a brother and sister were dressed in: the boy’s said “Future Genius” while his sister’s said “Future Princess.” Really?

What are tech jobs?

“Tech” encompasses many disciplines extending far beyond STEM. We can pursue career paths other than programmer, chemist, circuit board designer, mathematician to be part of tech. I have a Master of Science degree in Information Studies. Most of my peers (80% women) went into the fields of archiving, preservation and librarianship with these science degrees; yet these women are sometimes not viewed as working in tech based on the limited inclusion of STEM which tends to focus on math-centered disciplines.

document getting scanned

Digital preservation. Photo credit: Rebecca Carpenter

We also need millions of teachers in STEM disciplines for children to learn them, yet teaching is still viewed as outside tech and compensated at a much lower rate despite teachers having knowledge arguably equivalent to traditional tech workers. We must broaden our view of what it means to “be in tech” if we’re going to ensure women’s progress in tech.

How do we measure tech inclusion?

It’s interesting when executives release statistics about how the number of women working at tech companies is increasing, but this increase does not necessarily mean the number women doing technical jobs at these companies is increasing. Before the personal computer, I would wager there were more women than men working at IBM because of the male dependency on female secretary pools, receptionists and administrative assistants.

dozens of women at typewriters in a large room

Photo courtesy of the Missouri State Archives

I work at a software company that makes such a claim: Approximately 30% of our workforce is female. The board of directors certainly is, with just three of 10 members being women. The executive leadership team fairs far worse with just one of 13 members being a woman (HR).

There are many tech jobs at non-tech companies often not included in this dissection, and there are many tech jobs beyond IT, R&D and Engineering departments. I started my career as a web developer in the Marketing department. Was I considered a woman working in tech? I also want to mention that the concept of women in tech sometimes gets couched as a “gender equality” benchmark, frequently excluding transgender men and women who are ignored in this dichotomy. When trying to measure inclusiveness, we must remember that the labels we use to describe the problem often complicate it.

What now?

Talk to a woman, right now. Listen to us. Believe what we say about our negative experiences growing up in a divided society with an education system hostile to our pursuits. Stop judging what we want to learn or do by antiquated, gender-specific thinking that discourages us. It’s okay for a girl to want to be a teacher, equally so to studying robotics. If she wants to be an electrician instead of an electrical engineer, tell her we need good tradespeople too.