Young men online

Are young men more vulnerable to the great seductions of the Internet than young women?

This idea occured to me while reading Will Hutton's ominous warning about the behavious of British boys in the Observer newspaper. In his June 4 article "Boys today: we're doing their heads in," Hutton argues that boys are victims of the crisis of masculinity in our society:

"The sudden aggression and angry violence that upsets so many parents of teenage boys is not a sign of poor parenting or an appetite to be macho. It's an expression of boys' inability to live up to today's highly managed demands."

So what does this have to do with the Internet? Hutton suggests that the contemporary adolescent male withdraws to the easy certainties of the virtual world:

"Boys feel the disempowerment of modernity more acutely. Playing a computer game is a much more comfortable place to be than competing for an exam which has few upsides and plenty of downsides."

Electronic communications, Hutton tells us, occupies the mind of these young men much more than books or exams:

As for exams, parents report their boys unable to concentrate sufficiently even to begin to study. If they start to revise, the quality of what they do is execrable. Lying on the bed with a book half-open, their mind on texting or instant messaging, they seem to take pride in being disorganised."

Hutton's warning was reiterated in an equally bleak piece in this Sunday's New York Times magazine by Mattathias Schwartz on Internet gambling in colleges. According to Schwartz, 1.6 million college mostly male students played online poker last year:

"Researchers say that Internet poker is addictive. Players say that it's addictive. The federal government says that it's illegal. But colleges have done little to stop its spread on campus. Administrators who would never consider letting Budweiser install taps in dorm rooms have made high-speed Internet access a standard amenity, putting every student with a credit card minutes away from 24-hour high-stakes gambling. Online casinos advertise heavily on sites directed at college students like CollegeHumor.com, where students post pictures of themselves playing online poker during lectures with captions like: "Gambling while in class. Who doesn't think that wireless Internet is the greatest invention ever?"

Schwartz' piece, "The Hold'em Hold-up", is the story of Gene Hogan, a Lehigh University sophomore who became so hooked on Internet poker that he robbed a bank to feed his habit. Hogan's seduction by online gambling was absolute:

"Online, Hogan would play 60 to 100 hands an hour — three times the number of his live games. There was no more shuffling between hands, no more 30-second gaps to chat with his friends or consider quitting. Each hand interlocked with the next. The effect was paralyzing, narcotic."

But Hogan is far from alone in being seduced by Internet poker. Schwartz quotes another college online gambler describing his addiction:

"It fried my brain. I would roll out of bed, go to my computer and stay there for 20 hours. One night after I went to sleep, my dad called. I woke up instantly, picked up the phone and said, 'I raise.' "

Both Schwartz and Hutton present the Internet as an escape for young men from reality. Of course, you can't blame technology for this. Boredom, rebellion and alienation existed before the invention of the personal computer. But the internet magnifies and compounds this anti social and compulsive behaviour. For vulnerable young men, the Internet does indeed seem to have become the great seduction of modern life.