In groundbreaking research that surprised everyone, CNN reported today that a new study links violent video games to childhood aggression. This story was listed directly underneath another about how anonymous blogging anger was running rampant on the internet. The message is clear. Technology is responsible for making everyone mad.
Think about it. When you shoot something on a video game, it makes you mad. When you miss something that you were trying to shoot, it makes you mad. Whether you win or lose, you’re going to be mad. And if the computer crashes and you can’t play your video game, darned if you don’t become mad. There’s no way to win.
Same thing with Web Rage (the strange, Jekyll-and-Hyde vitriol that comes out of a person behind a keyboard, previously seen only on the highway and after the Superbowl). If people disagree with something you say, then you get mad. If they agree with you, then you exchange comments back and forth about how jerky the people are who disagree with your decision by committee.
Now, what conclusions can we draw from these observations, besides the fact that it’s a mad mad mad mad mad world?
Clearly, since technology is fine and is designed to make our lives easier, it’s that our brains are faulty.
Evolution has never faced a situation like this before. No other creature, besides lab animals, have to deal with the virtual world like we do, and therefore are brains are hardwired to be somewhat unprepared.
For example, our brains are pretty good at telling the difference between the real world and the virtual world, if we’re asked to think about it and make a distinction (unless we’re schizophrenic, high or lying to ourselves). But that doesn’t mean that the basic circuitry of our brain understands the distinction.
Just because we understand that murder, torture, etc. are harmless entertainment on a screen and not in real life, it doesn’t mean that our lower, more visceral circuitry can make the distinction. Our brain is programmed to digest sensory information, process it and act. There are several processing steps prior to our understanding of the way things are, and during those steps, there are changes made according to repetitive, reinforcing cues (my homeys in cogpsych will back me up, right?) And those changes really do change our behavior.
Therefore, I’m afraid that our brains aren’t built to handle all this virtuality around us. I think the computers know that, and that’s why they haven’t made any efforts to take over yet. They know that if we stay on our computers long enough, we’ll become so angry that we’ll destroy each other on our own. Sentient AI thinks it’s sooooooo clever. Those of us who can train our brains to distinguish between real and fake will be the safe ones.