Expert: Internet Addiction Carries a "Moral Cost"

Cites Online Suicide as One Example

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ARLINGTON, Virginia, NOV. 25, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The Internet suicide of a Florida teen witnessed by an online audience is an example of the “enormous moral cost” of screen addiction, says philosophy professor Roger Scruton.

Scruton, a research professor for the Institute for the Psychological Sciences, said this in response to the actions of those who watched 19-year-old Abraham Biggs, Jr., overdose on drugs and die last week on the live video Web site Justin.tv.

Users notified the police only when it was clear that the Florida teenager was no longer breathing. It has not be revealed how many watched him die, but more than 100 people were still watching the video when police arrived and turned the camera off.

Abraham Biggs Sr., the teen’s father, told the Associated Press that he was appalled by the actions of those who watched his son die: “As a human being, you don’t watch someone in trouble and sit back and just watch.”

Scruton explained in a statement sent out by the Institute of Psychological Sciences that there is a natural lure to watch others suffer: “Human beings have a desire to witness suffering, by way of celebrating their own temporary freedom from it — hence the appeal of the Roman games and public executions.”

“But they also feel guilty when they do this, since they know that they are being tempted,” he continued. “They are being prompted to want what they see: to want another’s suffering, even another’s death, simply to gratify their own sadistic desires.

“Hence, in normal circumstances, shame will prevent them from going far in this direction, and turn their thoughts toward another goal — toward helping the other, rather than relishing his pain.”

Anonymity

The professor said the Internet, however, “abolishes shame in this context as in so many others. Viewing the world from behind a screen, the Internet addict can relish every kind of narcissistic, sadistic and hateful feeling without cost.

“Nobody sees him; nobody knows what he is doing; nobody judges — so he believes.”

Referring to the audience watching Briggs’ suicide, he said “the fascinated spectators could enjoy a cost-free sadistic spree, and — when the dreadful event was over — turn their vicarious lives in another direction, as though nothing had happened.”

“This is but one instance of the enormous moral cost of screen addiction,” Scruton said. “As we shall increasingly see, the result of the Internet will be a widespread hardening of the human heart, and a replacement of true relationships between people with their cyber-substitutes.

“Only concerted action now can control this menace; and it is important that all decent people turn their attention to the question of how it might be done.”

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