Late last month, the World Wide Web quietly celebrated its 10 thousandth day of existence, making it almost exactly my age. This information space makes up the vast majority of the Internet, which, though technically much older than the Web, didn’t become popular until my lifetime. At this juncture, the two terms are synonymous for most people, and no one knows or cares what “HTTP” stands for anymore. The point is, the slice of the Internet where billions of people spend most of their screen time has had a lengthy test run, and it’s reasonable to evaluate the effect it’s had on us.
The diagnosis isn’t good. And for all its benefits, I’ve come to the conclusion that we’d be better off if the Internet had never been invented. Here’s why.
It’s stolen a generation of young men.
Amid news that millennial men are the physically weakest generation in recorded history (their average grip strength is equivalent to that of a 30-year-old mom), and that the U.S. fertility rate is at an all-time low, we find out what guys have really been up to. Writing at First Things, Samuel James of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission calls the current generation of young men “lost boys.” He cites Erik Hurt of the University of Chicago, who says the average low-skilled, unemployed man plays video games for 12 hours per week. That figure often jumps as high as 30 hours. And what’s troubling about this is that men don’t seem to have fled to consoles and computers as a means of escape from miserable, real-world existences. On the contrary, happiness surveys suggest the gamers, a historic percentage of whom still live with their parents, are quite content frittering their days away slaying digital foes.
James points out that, historically, the drive to “get busy” has motivated men to, well, get busy—obtaining jobs and the means of wooing and supporting a woman. But something seems to be short-circuiting that desire in the current crop of young bucks. Perhaps it’s the fact that almost all of them consume pornography with jaw-dropping frequency. The Huffington Post, that fever swamp of alarmist conservative reporting, published stats some time ago showing that porn sites now account for a third of internet bandwidth, and receive more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined. Nearly 70 percent of young men look at porn on a weekly basis (84 percent do so monthly). Dr. Simone Lajeunesse at the University of Montreal remarked after attempting to research men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography, “We couldn’t find any.” And fully two thirds of human resources professionals say they’ve found porn on employees’ work computers.
It’s twisted our sexuality.
Not only has this pandemic affected men’s physical performance, destroyed or curtailed relationships, and fed a notoriously flesh-eating industry. It’s also rewired male brains to become aroused by violence, degradation, and objectification of women. Covenant Eyes reports that 88 percent of porn scenes include acts of sexual aggression—a scary statistic, to be sure. But men who are addicted to darker varieties of porn may not even be seeking out real women with whom to act out what they’ve seen. As it turns out, young men are becoming less, not more interested in real sex.
The Washington Post recently reported that many millennials are avoiding intimacy altogether. A study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior (which I’m sure is always a fascinating read) found that “those born in the 1990s are more than twice as likely to be sexually inactive in their early 20s as the previous generation was.” The news may sound good, but the explanation is disheartening.
In a puzzlingly unreflective piece in New York Magazine, feminist clarion Naomi Wolf writes, “[Pornography] is not making men into raving beasts. On the contrary: The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’ Far from having to fend off porn-crazed young men, young women are worrying that as mere flesh and blood, they can scarcely get, let alone hold, their attention.”
Playboy Magazine, unable to compete with omnipresent online smut, recently deep-sixed its nude photo pages. The World Wide Web has done what Hugh Hefner by his lonesome could never dream of doing: It’s fundamentally re-soldered the circuit boards inside millions of men’s (and many women’s) heads, creating neural pathways that, as Dr. Willian Struthers of the University of Illinois at Chicago puts it, grow “wider as they are repeatedly traveled with each exposure to pornography,” eventually becoming “the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed.”
For a generation of guys, one of the most basic biological drives is now chemically channeled toward fantasy. We have no idea what this will do to our society in the long run. But we do know that a social experiment on this scale could never have happened without the instantaneous, anonymous, and usually free access to petabytes of data that the Internet affords.
Go here to read part 2.
Image courtesy of Ingram Publishing at Thinkstock by Getty Images.
G. Shane Morris is assistant editor of BreakPoint Radio.