Man (Dis)connected – Philip Zimbardo – What it Means to be Male in a Connected World

No stranger to controversy – Psychologist and author Prof. Philip Zimbardo rocked the academic world in 1971 with his Stanford Prison Experiment. His research continued with such celebrated works as The Lucifer Effect, studies of time, heroism and social intensity syndrome.

In Man (Dis)connected, Zimbardo explores the role technology is having on men socially and sexually Click to Tweet

In his latest book, Man (Dis)connected, Zimbardo explores the role technology is having on men academically, socially and sexually.

In this #Disruptive Voices interview we caught up with Dr. Zimbardo during his book tour of the United Kingdom and asked him the effects the connected world is having on young men. He discusses internet, computer games & pornography addictions and how this is affecting a new generation of males.

Video Transcript:

It’s too easy for young people to live in a virtual world and give up the social world, the real world.

Hi, I’m Philip Zimbardo – I am the founder and President of the Heroic Imagination Project and when I’m not talking about good and evil I’m talking about the impact of technology on young men everywhere in the world which I illustrate in my book “Man (Dis)connected’ and there’s an American version coming out next month called “Man Interrupted” which I did with Nikita Coulombe, my young co-author.

The problem is we now live in a world of technology. We have our cell phones, people walking down the street in America with a Starbucks coffee and a cell phone plugged into their ears. You see bunches of kids, teenagers, sitting around – no-one’s talking to each other, they’re all on their cell phone or they’re watching a YouTube video. So technology has taken over.

The danger is getting addicted to it. That it’s just too easy for young people to live in a virtual world and give up the social world – the real world. Because it provides so much entertainment – with YouTube videos, everybody has endless Google searches and now, of course, the big media – Amazon – any movie you want, any song, you can have all the music in the world at your fingertips. And again, endless movies. And so I appreciate the value of that.

The alarm that I’m sounding in this book is for men who’ve grown up in the internet generation, maybe up to age 29 now, meaning when they were little kids they were accessing the internet. For those young men the internet has become too important. I mean important enough so that it replaces much of the real life connected with real people. So the two things that I focus on are video games and online free pornography – and now they’re almost like, for me, a twin evil.

There’s nothing wrong with either of them – the problem is when you do it either in excess and when you do them in social isolation – for me that’s the twin killer. You’re all alone, five, six, eight, ten hours every day, every night – in your room playing video games, watching pornography and you’re not interacting, you’re not socialising.

So for many young men they never learn social communication, they don’t know how to carry on a conversation. We know if you programmed your computer or a robot to carry on a conversation – there’s a thousand algorithms, a thousand rules they have to learn. And you only learn how to talk to people and feel comfortable doing it by observing others and by practising and getting feedback. They don’t observe others, they don’t practise and so they feel awkward – and when you feel awkward you avoid it. So I’m arguing it’s a new kind of shyness.

The old shyness, that I had studied for many years, was a fear of rejection. Now it’s not knowing what to do – so it’s not fear of rejection – it’s almost as if you’re in a foreign land and you don’t know the language and you don’t know how to ask where the loo is. So it’s really that.

Now, we do know that there is lots of research that says playing video games in moderation can have positive cognitive effects – building up sense of mastery, hand-eye co-ordination. So it’s really when does a moderate amount become excessive?

Now, some people argue it’s really not the number, it’s not like “gee, when you do ten hours”, it really becomes addictive when you prefer to do that over anything else. You would rather be playing video games than hanging out with your friends, than being in school, than playing sports, than being out in nature.

So it becomes all consuming and when you’re not playing video games, you know, when you’re at a family dinner, when you’re in class – you wish you were there. Now again, video games are designed by men for men and for boys. So, it’s obviously… it is possible to have more socially redeeming games – I’m not even talking about violent games – I’m not saying, you know, video games are bad because they’re violent – I’m saying set that aside.

Games can be designed that are socially redeeming, games can be designed that promote good causes like conservation, sustainability and games could be designed where there are two or more people physically present. Like you’re a pilot and this is your navigator – your co-pilot.

And so that’s what I’ve been pushing for. But the games are designed by men for men, so male values of domination, of aggression, and it turns out the same is true for pornography.

Pornography – both of these are multi-billion dollar businesses, so it’s not like other things in past years we said “it’s a fad” – teenagers go through it – no, these are multi-million dollar businesses that are only going to get more fascinating, more involving, more engaging. And again, video pornography is designed by men for men.

Now, I’m even setting aside the objectification of women. But what it means is that you press a button, or you type in a few words ‘www dot porn’ and there’s a world of pornography – there are things that you’ve never even imagined were possible – but also it’s a strange world because everybody is beautiful.

The women all look like models. The men are physically… studs, they have enormous penises that they perform for twenty or thirty minutes on end. And what you don’t realise – this is all edited. If they have an orgasm too soon they edit it out, they start all over again. But the point is, you’re a young man who hasn’t had sex yet and the more pornography you watch the more it becomes the social norm. ‘This is what women want, this is what women expect, this is what sex is and this is what’s expected of you’.

And the problem is those expectations are incredibly high. Namely, you see somebody like you, only it’s a man performing incredibly, I mean with an enormous penis, non-stop, sixteen positions in twenty minutes and suddenly you feel inferior – inadequate.

So that’s my concern. Now, the other thing is because the pornography is designed by men, really for men, it takes all the romance out of sex. No-one kisses, no-one touches gently. No-one communicates, there’s no words, nobody talks. There’s no negotiation of boundaries – no woman says ‘this is okay, this is not okay’.

And when they become addictive in a sense of they young man, the young boy, would rather be doing… playing video games, watching pornography, than anything else in the universe.

Yeah, I mean technology replaces people. In the automobile industry in most countries there’s no workers – there’s robots. When you go to the supermarket now you can check out yourself – so that replaces supermarket check-out people. So it increases profitability by replacing people with machines.

But, as I’m a social psychologist, I believe people need people. People have to want to be with other people.

And when you get to a point where you say ‘you know virtually all of my needs can be satisfied by technology’ and now the newest technology – Virtual Reality – where you wear the goggles – and the world is in your head.

So, again the idea is there’s nothing wrong with video games, there’s nothing wrong with pornography – it’s when either of them are used in excess. When either of them are done in complete social isolation.

And when they become addictive in a sense of they young man, the young boy, would rather be doing… playing video games, watching pornography, than anything else in the universe.

Yeah, I mean technology replaces people. In the automobile industry in most countries there’s no workers – there’s robots. When you go to the supermarket now you can check out yourself – so that replaces supermarket check-out people. So it increases profitability by replacing people with machines.

There’s nothing wrong with video games or pornography – it’s when they are used in excess Click to Tweet

But, as I’m a social psychologist, I believe people need people. People have to want to be with other people. And when you get to a point where you say ‘you know virtually all of my needs can be satisfied by technology’ and now the newest technology – the Virtual Reality – where you wear the goggles – and the world is in your head.

This article was originally posted at DisruptedTech.tv