[ Nova Southeastern University | Forced Isolation ]
While SIQSS, HomeNet, and their
detractors have garnered the bulk of media attention surrounding Internet
isolation, several other studies have been conducted, which offer further
insights into the phenomenon. One study, conducted by Nova Southeastern
University, partially replicates the results of the HomeNet surveys. Two other
studies involve individuals intentionally forcing themselves to rely on the
Internet for all human contact.
89 seniors at a Florida high school were given a survey with 181 questions, which ascertained the amount of Internet use, level of intimacy with family and friends, and depression.
Low Internet users had better relationships with mothers and friends than high Internet users. However, no significant differences were found for depression or relationship with fathers
While the study seems to show a correlation between high Internet use and certain isolating variables (such as worse relationships with certain people), one can question several aspects of the study. First, the researchers disregarded moderate Internet users (from 1 to 2 hours a day). Second, as the authors acknowledge, "These results do not imply directionality"; that is, just as the other surveys could not show that heavy Internet use causes social isolation, neither can this study show a causal relationship between using the Internet more and becoming more distant from one's mother and friends.
A South Korean software company sponsored Kim Tae Ho in a 18-month experiment to see if he could survive in a cabin with only the Internet. He was allowed to leave the cabin only for walks to preserve his health; all communication, purchasing, and work had to be done on the 'Net. He succeeded in surviving, even meeting and eventually cyber-marrying a woman, yet he says, "I feel like a prisoner" (Macintyre). His wife, who joined him in the cabin, notes that while she can communicate with her family over the Internet, "looking at their faces on the monitor can't replace human contact."
David Whitford of Fortune magazine spent five days in a Martha's Vinyard cabin, cut off from the world save an Internet connection. In a proof of concept that he likened to Bank of America's 1965 experiment in which a 24-year-old secretary had to use only a credit card for all purchases in a month, he survived, albiet without food for some periods. At one point, he downloaded an empathized with the woman in "The Machine Stops" by E.M. Forester, although he felt like he was "waiting for the Machine to warm up." He most missed contact with other people, despite being in contact with his family and others over email and chat programs.