When a Man Loves the Internet

Who’s always there for you, has the power to make you laugh or cry, and wants to keep you entertained and engrossed around the clock? Forget your significant other — for one out of four Americans, the Internet is just as good.

That’s one conclusion of a new poll released Wednesday, which found that a full 24 percent of respondents said the Internet could serve as a replacement for a significant other — at least for “some period of time.” Not surprisingly, the view was most prevalent among singles, of which 31 percent agreed with it; people who view themselves as “progressives” politically were also more likely to agree. Interestingly, there was no difference among genders.

The online poll, from 463 Communications and Zogby International, examined Americans’ views of what role the Internet plays in people’s lives and whether the government should do more to regulate it. It was conducted between Oct. 4 and Oct. 8; there were 9,743 adult respondents nationwide.

The Government’s Role

The poll also found that more than half of Americans believe Internet content such as video should be controlled in some way by the government. Twenty-nine percent said it should be regulated just like TV content, while 24 percent said the government should use an online rating system similar to that used for movies. Only 36 percent of respondents felt that blocking Internet video would be unconstitutional.

“Some view the Internet as their new best friend, others as an increasingly powerful tool that can infect our youth with harmful images and thoughts and therefore must be controlled,” said 463 partner Tom Galvin.

“Our challenge as a society is to let the Internet flourish as a dynamic force in our economy and communities while not chipping away at the fundamental freedoms that created the Internet in the first place,” Galvin added.

Internet on the Brain

Among the poll’s other findings was that more than a quarter of Americans currently have a profile on a social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook. That varied widely, though, depending on age — a full 78 percent of those aged 18 to 24 have profiles — and political tendencies, with Democrats outpacing Republicans by 10 percentage points.

Identity theft fears notwithstanding, more than 20 percent of respondents said they would willingly change their name to something different if someone offered them US$100,000 for the rights to their original identity.

Finally, 11 percent of Americans said they would be willing to have an Internet access device implanted in their brains, assuming it was safe. Men were much more willing than women, with 17 percent vs. just 7 percent, respectively. Almost 20 percent, meanwhile, would be willing to have a chip implanted in kids under 13 to help keep track of their whereabouts.

Need for Caution

“There’s no getting around the fact that the Internet is an incredibly valuable tool, but it needs to be approached with caution,” Susan Newman, a social psychologist and best-selling author on family and parenting topics, told TechNewsWorld.

“The Internet has the power to take over our lives in much the same way the cell phone has,” Newman added. “To avoid relationship tensions and arguments, it’s necessary to say no to incoming calls and similarly to spending an inordinate amount of time alone in a room on the Internet.”

For singles, viewing the Internet as a substitute for real-life interaction can also diminish the chance that they’ll find a meaningful relationship in real life, Newman said. “If they’re devoting their life to this substitute significant other, they are cutting back on their time to find a real one.”

Balancing Act

Indeed, the fact that respondents viewed the Internet as a potential replacement for real-life relationships suggests that we have not yet learned how to find balance between our real and virtual lives, Mike Gotta, principal analyst with Burton Group, told TechNewsWorld.

“It’s disconcerting to say ‘replace,'” Gotta noted. “Hopefully, this is just a blip in the curve, and when we come back down, we’ll realize that it’s not about replacing but rather augmenting.”

Used well, the Internet can help people increase their social “surface area,” Gotta explained, allowing them to connect with more people and find relationships that can then be converted into real-world ones.

“We have first life and Second Life,” Gotta concluded. “Maybe now we need a third life, which is a blend of the two.”

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