Guest blogger David J Ley, a Psychologist based in New Mexico, muses about the possible social effects of the new UK Internet filters.He is the author of The Myth of Sex Addiction and writes a blog for Psychology Today. His website is: http://Drdavidley.com
Based upon the opt-in, opt-out filtering of Internet sites, it appears that the government and Internet Service Providers have a certain image in mind, when it comes to the kind of person they want you to be. Freedom of information allows us to develop in our own, self-selected ways. So, when that information is restricted, one must assume that there is a desire to prevent you from developing in those directions. So, let’s look at some of the blocked categories in the Internet filtering in Britain, and see what kind of people we shouldn’t be.
At the baseline filtering level, of course, all pornography is going to be filtered. Because, this is about sex, right? So, of course they want to limit access to sexual material. They have to, it’s the foundation of this whole panic. There are interesting antiquated ideas built in here though, that you can’t be trusted to choose your own sexual stimulation privately, and out of society’s watchful monitoring. Perhaps they think that too much masturbation is bad for you. Wears you down, reduces your productivity, and makes you weaker on the football field, or at the business table. Should be an interesting experiment, at a large scale. Does interfering with masturbation and private sexual stimulation have larger social effects? Apparently, we shall now see. (Though, the research has been done already – greater porn access decreases sexual crimes like rape and sexual abuse. Increased controls on accessing porn correlates with increases in the rates of sexual crime.) I’m sad to say that the people of the United Kingdom may need to get out your rape whistles, and attend personal defense classes.
At a more interesting level to me, is the material that is not sexual in nature, which is automatically blocked at all levels of filtering. It reads like a Rorschach test of the British government’s anxieties about its people. We can interpret these elements, as projecting what kind of people you are supposed to be, according to your government, and the results frankly, are a bit disturbing.
Dating sites are automatically blocked at even the lowest levels of filtering. So, Match.com, Okcupid, etc., are all now off-limits. Why is this? Dating sites reflect a modern way to meet people, to find people who share your own values and interests, and to overcome the physical divides built into a world with billions of people. In historical times, we knew perhaps 500 people, our local village. And, for intimate partners, we chose from that small group, limited to what was available, and not based upon many of our personal desires or needs – you married somebody who was available, you learned to simply accept what you could have, and give up on what you might want. Dating sites are one way in which technology has allowed us to overcome those natural barriers, and to find people who share our interests and desires, even the most private ones we wouldn’t necessarily be willing to voice in person in our small village. Conservative voices and technophobes often argue against dating sites. According to these arguments, Internet dating is unhealthy in some way, encouraging hookups and casual sex; it is somehow “less,” because it is modern and not restricted to the old ways of doing things. But, one in three marriages starts these days, through dating sites. And one in ten people are using dating sites on a regular basis. Young people, those who aren’t heterosexual, and the technically proficient (read, people who use computers all day) all use dating sites more than other populations. With limited access to dating sites, it appears that more Brits will have to either accept loneliness, or return to the days of dating only those who are immediately available. Put on the shelf those personal desires for finding someone who shares your interests, and take what you can get, seems to be the message.
The other automatically blocked category of sites that is strangely revealing of the State’s anxiety and desires, is the filtering of information related to suicide and self-harm. Of course, many sites intended to educate and prevent suicide will likely be automatically overblocked. But, at a deeper level, the British state is saying something here – thinking about suicide or self-harm is unhealthy, sick, and disturbed. They appear to be working under the premise that if they can restrict your access to information about suicide or self-harm, they can reduce the chances that you’ll do it or even think about it. But, suicide and thoughts of self-destruction existed long, long before the Internet. Loneliness and social isolation are some of the main predictors of suicidal thoughts, and exposing people to information about suicide actually decreases their chances of doing it. One of the most effective interventions for suicide is to help people understand that they are not alone in those thoughts, and that many people, millions each year, also struggle with thoughts of ending it all. Thinking of suicide is normal, when people feel cut off and alone, sad, and hopeless. But now, with such information blocked automatically, it appears that many people in the UK, who struggle with such thoughts, may have to struggle alone. To paraphrase the old prison warden in Cool Hand Luke, “that is the way they want it.”
The British government seems to want you to struggle alone. Is this a reflection of the old ways of doing things? Suffer in silence, with a stiff upper lip? From the outside looking in, I will make a humble observation: I believe that the British state wants its citizens to live the way they did, before the Internet. The current restrictions suggest that they believe that such ways of life were better, more ethical and safer than modern ways.
By blocking access to sex, dating, and information about suicide, the British people are doomed to greater loneliness. The great change that the Internet has wrought is that it allows people to connect in new ways, from around the world, crossing barriers. The disabled, the far from home, the chronically busy, the shy and those who fear that their desires are unique and shameful, are just some of the people who use the Internet to feel connected with others. Before the Internet was widely accessible, these people struggled through life, alone, isolated and hopeless. The Internet gave many of us hope, and let us feel that we were not alone. Apparently, that’s a dangerous thing, according to the modern British state.