May. 9th, 2008

mamagaea: (James O Rly?)
Found this article at http://www.haaretz.com through the CMC Magazine at http://www.december.com/cmc/mag



In cyberspace, logging off may signal 'it's over'

By Ofri Ilani



Right after Danny set some water to boil, a Google chat window popped up on his computer screen. Rena asked how he was doing. He responded, they began chatting and very soon the conversation digressed to Rena's painful admission that she had done something nasty to a mutual friend.

Suddenly, however, (back in the real world) the water boiled over and Danny left the computer to run and turn off the gas. Meanwhile, Danny's telephone rang and he hastened to answer it. After speaking with his mother for about 15 minutes, he remembered his conversation with Rena. Upon returning to his computer screen, Danny discovered that Rena had tried several times to figure out if he was still there, and then left a hurtful message. Danny quickly typed back that a pot had boiled over on the stove, that he had intended no offense, but Rena had already logged off.

Who is the guilty party? Is Rena paranoid or is Danny insensitive? This fictitious situation is an example of how feelings can be hurt in the course of a text-based conversation, in which correspondents have no idea what is happening on the other side of the screen.

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"One of the most difficult things for us, as humans, is contending with the feeling that we are being ignored," explains Dr. Haim Weinberg, a clinical psychologist and one of the speakers at the conference, the Psychological Aspects of Aggression on the Internet, which was held last week. "It creates a sense of having been erased. When we speak with someone face-to-face, there are very few situations in which someone actually ignores us, and if that happens, it shows there really is something wrong with a relationship."

"In textual communication via the Internet, a response is often not sent due to unforeseen circumstances, but people perceive it as a personal slight. When no one responds to what you are saying, it feels as though your very self has been deleted. Sometimes people do not realize how much they are hurting others by not responding, until they themselves are hurt."

Feeling abandoned

The more our relationships shift to forums, chats, e-mails and text messages, the more digital misunderstandings play a role in our lives. Sometimes such communication errors can be rectified quickly, and other times, a more permanent rift develops. In recent years, psychologists and therapists have developed a growing awareness of the unique character of online relationships and the emotional and interpersonal problems they trigger.

Therapists seeking to study the emotional processes online conversationalists experience, and to explore the possibility of providing therapy via the Internet, have founded an Internet psychology forum on the Hebrew Psychology Web site (www.hebpsy.net). This forum organized last week's conference, which was sponsored by the Psychology on the Internet Forum and the Shenkar School of Engineering and Design.

The insights raised at the conference added an interesting dimension to the frequent discussions of verbal violence on forums and in talkbacks. Most of the lecturers concurred that the aggression expressed on the Internet was not just a reflection of the violence that exists in society, but also stemmed from the frustration inherent in various aspects of online communication. Even after over a decade of online life, the human psyche still has difficulty adapting to online existence.

"It is very hard to overcome the problems that the Internet creates in relationships, and to avoid confrontational situations," says Weinberg. "I have many patients who try to form relationships via the Internet ... I encounter a lot of unfulfilled expectations."

Psychologist Dafna Houminer explains that the main cause of hurt feelings and belligerence is the medium's intrinsic lack of communication, which often sees grave results.

"The Internet was hard-wired to create misunderstandings and a lack of empathy," says Houminer. "Forums and online environments create an initial impression of paradise for empathic needs. As long as this works, it's great. When we respond to this need, there is no aggression, but we are human, and cannot respond all the time. That is when rage erupts. If I send a message to the forum and do not get a response within minutes, or hours at most, I feel abandoned. The Internet has caused us to become addicted to instantaneous responses and has reduced our ability to cope with frustration."

The loss of expressions

The worst drawback of using various types of text messages is the lack of facial expressions, which help to transmit a person's intentions.

"When I speak with someone and see his eyes, it is easier for me to understand that he is someone like me, with needs," explains Weinberg. "On the Internet, you do not truly realize that opposite you is another person with his own world. The other has become text, making it hard to imagine there is a person behind the text, and not to turn him into an object. Furthermore, we extrapolate our world onto the other, attributing to him intentions he never had."

Houminer says that many of the surfers (nicknamed "trolls"), who flood forum discussions with provocative and aggressive messages, are actually acting out their frustration at the Internet's inability to meet their emotional needs.

"Silence and disregard are the most common forms of harm on the Internet," continues Houminer. "A lack of response is perceived as an active refraining from supplying a need, and results in the creation of vengeful energies. A troll's subtexts always contain a claim of injustice by someone."

Psychologist Udi Bonstein notes that studies conducted in the U.S. show that, in many cases, people who speak aggressively online are themselves victims of aggression, on the Internet or in real life.

"This is evident in talkbacks," says Bonstein. "People who write invectives and curses online are apparently people who do not feel strong in their lives."

What is the solution? Houminer believes that an essential step in creating less hurtful relationships online is the removal of the anonymity barrier. "We need to examine whether the freedom we gain from anonymity is worth the price," says Houminer. "When a person is only a user name, he is not much of a person." Even so, Houminer feels there is no complete solution to the separation the screen creates between surfers.

"There will always be unavoidable misunderstandings," she says. "If we realize that, however, we have understood a lot."

August 2008

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