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A ‘Ruined Generation of Men,’ Plus a New Class Divide? Digital Adverse Effects in the News

June 8, 2012

By Michael Fergenson, AJN senior editorial coordinator

LAN Party NW, 2009/Chase N., via Flickr

There continue to be questions raised about the harmful effects of the excessive use of digital devices, mostly in the young but also in adults. Such ills as ADHD, violence, poor school performance, social isolation, and bullying have been attributed to the overuse of gaming, the Internet, and social media Web sites.

A ruined generation of men? Psychologist Phillip Zimbardo, well known for his ethically borderline 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, contends that video games and digital media do have a detrimental effect on today’s youth, especially males. His recent article, “The Demise of Guys: How Video Games and Porn Are Ruining a Generation,” argues that addiction to video games and online porn “is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.”

He refers to stories such as a South Korean man who went into cardiac arrest after playing a video game for 50 hours straight, a man whose wife kicked him out because he couldn’t stop watching porn, and a mass murder suspect who claims to have used video games to prepare for his crime of shooting 77 people. Zimbardo argues there may be a link between violent video games and real-life aggression.

Causation is hard to prove, but many studies have pointed to negative physiologic and psychosocial effects of such games over the years. For example, a small experimental study published in 2006 assigned men ages 18 to 21 to play either the violent game Grand Theft Auto III or the less violent game The Simpsons: Hit and Run. The study found that

men randomly assigned to play Grand Theft Auto III exhibited greater increases in diastolic blood pressure from a baseline rest period to game play, greater negative affect, more permissive attitudes toward using alcohol and marijuana, and more uncooperative behavior in comparison with men randomly assigned to play The Simpsons.

The authors did note that the potential for negative outcomes was higher in those who had grown up in violent surroundings, although the risk may be there for all youths.

The new ‘digital divide.’ An article in the New York Times explored an unintended adverse effect of the efforts to get the latest computing tools into the hands of all Americans in order to close the so-called “digital divide” between socioeconomic groups. Researchers and policy makers have found that as access to digital devices has spread to lower-income families, children in these families are spending far more time than children from well-off families using these devices solely for entertainment purposes. The result is a new time-wasting gap that is replacing the digital divide. The problem, experts suggest, is “more a reflection of the ability of parents to monitor and limit how children use technology than of access to it.”

According to the article, “a study published in 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children and teenagers whose parents do not have a college degree spent 90 minutes more per day exposed to media than children from higher socioeconomic families. In 1999, the difference was just 16 minutes.” Because of this disparity, the FCC is considering a $200 million initiative to create a “digital literacy corps,” which would be used to “teach productive uses of computers for parents, students and job seekers.”

There are certainly many dangers inherent in the use of digital devices. As with many things, proper knowledge about their use and careful moderation are key to avoiding such negative effects. Nurses should be well versed in these, as many of their patients may be experiencing one or more of the ill effects that can be caused by use of these digital media.

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