Book Review: Virtually You

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Aboujaoude, Elias. Virtually you : the dangerous powers of the e-personality. W.W. Norton, 2011.

For a generation, educators and physicians, alarmed at the number of hours Americans spent in front of the television, cautioned viewers to cut back.  As technology advanced, television programs appeared on DVR’s, computers, smart phones and  iPads, and people watched more television than ever. New uses were discovered for these devices including email, shopping, games, dating, gambling and pornography.  Now additional concerns  are being voiced about how people and society are changing as the public spends more time than ever on these devices.

A psychiatrist at Stanford, Dr. Elias Aboujaoude writes about his patients in Virtually You, people whose normal use of these devices has interfered with their home lives, romantic relationships, careers and roles as parents.   The ways people act, speak and negotiate online is different from the ways they handle issues offline.  Online, people are bolder, braver  and more terse.    They see themselves as more intelligent and charismatic, superior to others.  They act on impulse.  Over time these new ways of behaving become incorporated into the life of the offline person.

Dr. Aboujaoude describes the e-personality as “more assertive, less restrained, a little bit on the dark side and decidedly sexier.”    Using personal experience and those of his patients, Dr. Aboujaoude discusses how the anonymity of the internet allows ordinary people to behave viciously and tempts good students to cheat.  People who would never been seen in an x-rated store become addicted to pornography.  The vast number of news sources allows people to avoid contrary views and to see themselves as experts.    People neglect their families while they maintain relationships with friends on Facebook or on dating sites.

In 2010, I reviewed The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, an excellent book about the effect of cloud technology on attention.  Dr. Aboujaoude’s new book is about the effect of this technology on our souls.  Recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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