Business - Written by Jeff Perron on Tuesday, April 7, 2009 11:07 - 3 Comments
Does the Web make us happy? – Part Two
Last week I introduced you to Jim Stolze‘s Virtual Happiness Project. In exploring the topic of the Web and its effect on our happiness more deeply, I spoke with Mr. Stolze himself. He walked me through some of his findings – evidence both pro and contra the notion that the Web is a source of happiness. Today, I share some of the evidence with you.
Contra-Happiness: Feeling Pizzled
You may not know the word, but you probably have felt pizzled before. Actually, you probably have felt pizzled at some point today. Stolze explains that feeling pizzled is an adverse effect of our Web 2.0 world: “People sometimes forget the hierarchy of communication. An example of disregard for the hierarchy is ignoring a face-to-face conversation to communicate digitally. For example, you are having a conversation with someone, but all of a sudden they are looking at their Blackberry, or answering ‘very important’ phonecalls. When the person we are talking to does this we feel pizzled – both pissed off and puzzled.”
Pro-Happiness: The Web as the World Wide Window and a Global Campfire
“In my research nearly all respondents answer that the Web has enriched their lives in two ways,” said Stolze. “The first one being that they consider it their window to the world. There’s no doubt that the democratizing of knowledge has had a positive impact on the way people go through life. From deep thoughts on philosophy to things like finding a restaurant’s phone number or looking up a user review on IMDB. The second reason is that the Web is a perfect place to find people who are like you – to set up a discussion without the risk of being judged by your looks, skincolor or clothes. We are a social species and we have this deep need to be part of a group. The Internet has become the perfect place to gather around this new global campfire.”
Debateable: We have fewer deep, face-to-face realtionships because of the Web
The other side of the “ease of interaction” coin is concern over the extent to which we carry out relationships online, as opposed to face-to-face. Stolze doesn’t discount this concern: “There is a disconnect between our number of ‘friends’ and the number of deep connections we have. This is called friendship inflation. Simple economic law says that when there is more of something, the individual value decreases.” Stolze does agree, however, that while an abundance of Web 2.0 friendships will cause some of us to disregard the importance of deep, traditional friendships, an equal, if not greater, number of us will use the Web to strenghten existing strong ties and develop new ones. In referring to online communication with close friends, Stolze says, “The best emails are the ones that say: ‘Hey Jim, let’s have lunch this Friday. Same place?’”
Contra-Happiness: Information Overload
The Web provides us with more, and cheaper, information than ever before. Stolze is finding that perhaps we have access to too much information, and that it might have serious negative effects. He says, “We mistake information for inspiration and think more is better. The result is that we spend hours of surfing, lurking for information. If you search Google for the word ‘information’ you get over 3 billion results. Constantly being presented with more information than we have the ability to look through can cause stress, which contributes to depression.”
Stolze’s book, How to Survive Your Inbox, will be released, in Dutch, this coming June, but he gave me a preview of the conclusion: “In my research, I found that I was not able to prove, scientifically, that the Web makes us happy. I would say that the answer is no, given my results. What the data does allow me to say is that not being connected to the Internet makes you unhappy. It’s kind of the new hygiene.”
While too little Web action makes us unhappy, there certainly is a point where, well, too much is too much. Fortunately, Stolze provides guidelines for keeping our Web consumption at a healthy level. Check out his TED presentation on 5 Ways the Internet can make us happier and his answers to my questions on responsible use below.
On Responsible Use
Perron: Does a Blackberry belong in the bedroom?
Stolze: Surely not…Don’t take your Blackberry or your iPhone into the bedroom.
Perron: How do you know when you have reached an unhealthy level of online activity?
Stolze: When you’re Twittering [aka Tweeting] from the bathroom.
-Many thanks to Jim Stolze for his time and insight.
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