Do We Need a Temperance Movement for the Internet?


As we all wake up groggy on the first Monday after the Daylight Savings switch and go about our plugged-in days, let’s give some thoughts to Ross Douthat’s exhortation to “Resist the Internet.”  Somewhat tongue-in-cheek, Douthat encourages a vast new regime of laws and social norms limiting the degree to which people are plugged in through their computers and smart phones.

Fanciful as most of his essay is, his last suggestion and more-realistic expectation are worth taking seriously:

… The age of consent should be 16, not 13, for Facebook accounts. Kids under 16 shouldn’t be allowed on gaming networks. High school students shouldn’t bring smartphones to school. Kids under 13 shouldn’t have them at all. If you want to buy your child a cellphone, by all means: In the new dispensation, Verizon and Sprint will have some great “voice-only” plans available for minors.

I suspect that versions of these ideas will be embraced within my lifetime by a segment of the upper class and a certain kind of religious family. But the masses will still be addicted, and the technology itself will have evolved to hook and immerse — and alienate and sedate — more completely and efficiently.

That sounds about right.  Those with advantages adjust to innovations and changes, but as with much else in the culture war (particularly around sex and lifestyle), those who need us to build a common culture for their benefit and their ability to improve their lot are harmed.

  • Mike678

    Isn’t this simple evolution? Those that can think critically–that can see the harm in addiction–will protect their progeny, enabling their success in life. Those that cannot simply will not.

    Perhaps if our society were not so quick to cushion those that make poor decisions from the consequences of their actions, the negative results would drive more to think…

    • Justin Katz

      There’s a difference between cushioning people from harm and creating the conditions under which people can realize their potential. That’s our responsibility as human beings; we’re not simply animals.

      • Mike678

        Agreed. Though where that line is drawn differs among the population.

        That said, I think you’ll agree that many of our so-called ‘social programs’ do not “create the conditions under which people can realize their potential.” In fact, they encourage the opposite.

        • Justin Katz

          Yes, I agree on that point. At the very least, though, I think those of us who have the advantage of understanding what is good or not good for our families have a responsibility to create a culture that reflects our insights.

          • Mike678

            Perhaps. But at what point do we become no better than the freedom-destroying, ‘we know better’ regressives? (they are not ‘progressives’–that word infers positive results). Perhaps more education, but allow free choice. But that would require us to severely restrict the nanny state so that people feel the results, both positive and negative, of their choices.