Could Cutting People Off From The Internet Be Dangerous?

With the entertainment industry pushing hard for “three strikes” type laws that would kick people off the internet based on three accusations (not convictions) for online copyright infringement, it may be worth asking if there could be some serious unintended consequences associated with doing so. Reader Pickle Monger points us to a story, not about three strike disconnections, but about people taking the extreme step of cutting themselves off, and it quotes psychiatrist Jerald Block who who warns that a sudden disconnection can be quite harmful:

“If you are heavily active [on the internet], by disconnecting you are losing a significant relationship. Those 30 or 40 hours of time now have to be filled with real life.”

Dr Block says some people can find it very gratifying, while others find they are not capable of staying disconnected.

However, he believes the worst case scenario is when the decision to disconnect is made by a third party. “It can be a disaster and can even lead to suicide.”

It’s worth noting that Dr. Block is the same psychiatrist who, a few years ago, suggested that the Columbine tragedy may have been caused not by the two kids playing violent video games, but from being cut off from those games by their parents:

When Klebold and Harris are kicked off their computers, few, if any, would recognize just how important their virtual lives were to them. Most people wouldn’t even know they were in trouble. That would make the punishment much more severe…

For heavy computer users, cutting them off can free up 30 or more hours a week. That is a lot of time to fill, especially for an enraged teen with limited social skills. Unwise. The second issue is to recognize that computer users have a relationship with their computers… As silly as it may sound, being cut off from the system might feel something like being cut off from your best friend…

Frankly, this theory sounds just about as extreme and unsupportable as the opposite one that blames video games for violence. If you’re going to go on a rampage and kill people because you’ve lost your internet access, you’ve got bigger problems and issues than too strong a relationship with your computer. However, it does raise a point that is worth discussing: cutting people off suddenly from the internet may have serious unintended consequences. I don’t think we’ll see a wave of suicides or anything, but it does seem like an extreme response to something like file sharing, and it’s at least slightly worrisome that no one pushing for such three strikes laws is even thinking about what impact cutting people off might have.

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