It is sometimes hard to believe that in less than a decade, my relationship with the computer has morphed from using only Microsoft Word and game programs to using the computer as the dominant form of communication and education in my life. Rarely a day passes when I don't check my e-mail and Facebook accounts a dozen times. I log onto AIM and chat with people in the next room. I gather my daily news and weather reports from the Internet. It could be the best thing that has happened to our culture.
But the Internet can also be negative and hard to control. A recent news story from www.cnn.com caught my eye. Two years ago, 19-year-old Suzanne Gonzales killed herself by swallowing a lethal cocktail of potassium cyanide.
Gonzales frequently visited an Internet newsgroup called Alt.Suicide.Holiday (ASH). Members of ASH trade advice on how to commit suicide, and the site even includes tips on the best and worst ways to kill oneself. Her parents claim the site led her to death.
When it comes to the Internet, is there such a thing as going too far? I can't convincingly argue an Internet newsgroup drove a girl to kill herself because I believe that anyone who truly feels suicide is the best option will find a way to end his or her life regardless. A member of ASH told CNN in an e-mail that ASH is a pro-choice organization and doesn't encourage people to kill themselves.
In this case, ASH is not to blame for a person's suicide. The more serious and underlying problem here is that a young woman who wanted to end her life found comfort and advice in an online group as opposed to the "real world." When blogging and chatting replace reality as a means to make friends and develop trustworthy relationships, then we are guilty of something deeper than stupidity.
The friends you talk to on the Internet but have never met in person are not your real friends. If you have never met a person or at the very least, even heard their voice, then it would be foolish to believe you can trust this person. Deception is one of the greatest human arts, and anyone with a keyboard and Internet access can become accepted in cyber world.
I've heard stories from friends who have Internet "relationships." They receive expensive gifts from these people and have considered meeting them. But I'm wondering how someone could possibly benefit from a relationship that is successful based on how many words you can type per minute. Has our society become so desperate that we seek acceptance and affection from an 800-by-600-pixel screen that will never love us back? Get a real life, or buy yourself a dog.
All people who are tall, short, pretty, ugly, fat, skinny, smart or stupid can utilize the Internet as a way to escape and become something other than themselves. People used to use books for that sort of thing. Yahoo! Chat has become the 21st century version of "The Catcher in the Rye." "Come as you are" is the exact opposite of what is happening here.
Obviously, I will continue to waste hours on the Internet, despite its setbacks. The difference is that I know what's real, and would never take a stranger's advice over the advice of my friends and family. I will avoid the crazy people out there and carry on using the Internet to buy clothes and read celebrity gossip.
Megan Schulz is a sophomore technical journalism major. Her column runs every Tuesday in the Collegian.