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How the Internet Will Change Your Body

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Part III of a four-part series

Posted December 23, 2010

When I was growing up kids spent a lot of time looking in the mirror and grooming. Getting a girlfriend or boyfriend depended (and still does) on how you looked. So did self-esteem.

Today, much of that attention is paid not to the personal appearance but to virtual appearance—your image on Facebook and other networking sites.

The Double Mirror

Vastly more media attention is paid to Net weight loss products than to how using the Net does promotes weight gain. Similarly, attention to the Net and body image has generally been confined to popular media subjects like anorexia and sexting.

These are important issues. Yet what will happen when people’s body image online is as important to them as their image in real, physical life?

The camera is an increasingly bigger part of life on the Net. Many a cybercitizen who using a dating site knows that the facts about their future love interest, little details like age and work history, may have been fudged. Yet the photograph shouldn’t lie, right?

It doesn’t—until you meet.

In the past politicians and media stars actively managed their public image, but now most kids and adults with cell phones can stage manage theirs. Video cameras are built into most new phones, which makes most of the public potential movie makers and journalists. Their preferred subject—why not themselves? No wonder American high school students are #1 in the world in confidence.

Competence is a separate matter.

So when you can 1) spend time improving or updating your image on the Net, or 2) go out and exercise, which will garner greater time and attention? If your online image is increasingly more important to you, do you begin to neglect the real one—especially issues beyond cosmetic appearance? If the virtual world takes more and more time and work, does attention to your body and your real physical environment start to decline?

We are creating a double mirror in many people’s lives. In one, they look at themselves on the Net, while the other reflects their real life. More and more they will come to compare the two images, and realize they are not the same. Which image they become more attached to may prove key.

The lure of the virtual world can be extreme. One example is the recent court case of a South Korean couple tending their new infant. The couple began been spending more and more time playing a child-raising game in internet cafes, and not going home to look after their own. Their child died.

The relative attractiveness of media or cyber-reality is nothing new. I remember one patient of mine, a poor, struggling New York City woman, who could not wait to move to LA. She knew “the people there were much more happy and friendly.” Her single source of evidence—TV family shows.

Yet as the drama of the double mirror plays out, as people watch their cyber and real image, it’s probable that many will become confused watching both. What should work best is to merge them.

So we better start finding solutions right now—the subject of Part IV.

Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H., is an internationally recognized expert on rest, sleep, and body clocks. His books include The Body Clock Advantage, Designed to Last, and Psychological Time and Mental Illness. His new book, The Power of Rest, shows that rest is a skill that rebuilds, renews, and rewires mind and body, and can increase productivity, health, and pleasure. For more information, visit his website, TheRestDoctor.com. You can also subscribe to his new Fitcast via the iTunes Store.


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