Tag Archives: Internet use

Recommended Reading for October 12, 2010

Darshak Sangavi at Slate: Should you crowdsource your medical problems?

To be sure, many patients with complex or poorly understood medical problems like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis congregate in large virtual communities such as PatientsLikeMe, where they share details of their medical treatments and symptoms with each other—and occasionally even launch their own unregulated and informal drug trials. These communities provide some helpful information and support for many people.

brigid at Feminists With FSD: On the FSD hierarchy and why it hurts all of us

A lot of support groups, both on and off the web do not want to recognize women with conditions such as endo as legitimate cases of fsd. We don’t have vulvodynia, vulvular vestibulitis, or vaginismus so we couldn’t possibly go through the same things as women with those conditions. I’m here to change that misconception.

Michael Janger at Abled Body: Web Content Accessibility Law Needs More Brawn

However, the newly accessible video content is only the tip of the iceberg. The major broadcast and cable networks that are covered under the new law produce about 100,000 hours of video content a year from their TV programs. On YouTube — which is not covered by the new law — almost 13 million hours of video content are uploaded annually, and that number is increasing. Over 99% of this Web-exclusive content is not closed-captioned or video-described, nor will it be required to be, under the new law.

Flash Bistrow at Where’s the Benefit?: DLA and work? Who is confused here?

The government has already said that the new medical test is intended to reduce the number of DLA claimants by 20%. But I am not sure how taking benefit from 1 in 5 people will “reduce dependency” (on what?) and “promote work” – indeed, several of the people quoted in my previous article about DLA would have to stop working if they lost that benefit, because they do not have enough energy or capacity to both care for themselves AND go to work. If the government think that turfing disabled people off DLA will suddenly give them the capacity to work, they are very much mistaken. It will just disable them even further.

Sam Roe and Jared S. Hopkins for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune: The final hours of Jeremiah Clark (major trigger warning for discussion/descriptions of abuse and neglect)

Jeremiah is among 13 children and young adults at the North Side facility whose deaths have led to state citations since 2000, a Tribune investigation has found. Some of these deaths, records show, might have been prevented had officials at the facility taken basic steps, such as closely monitoring residents and their medical equipment.

If you’re on Delicious, feel free to tag entries ‘disfem’ or ‘disfeminists,’ or ‘for:feminists’ to bring them to our attention! Link recommendations can also be emailed to recreading at disabledfeminists dot com. Please note if you would like to be credited, and under what name/site.

Recommended Reading for June 1, 2010

fiction_theory (LJ): The internet IS real life

The problem with impeaching someone’s anti-racism based on attendance at a specific march or even public rallies and protests in general is that it assumes that a) attending such events is a more real, valid, and important means of expressing anti-racism than any other means, specifically online and b) that attendance is a feasible option for everyone.

Marching at a rally or attending a protest is all well and good, but it’s not something that is an option for everyone. It’s quite ablist to ask such a question as though the privilege of being able to attend excludes the antiracist work of those who use other venues.

Mattilda at Nobody Passes: Closer

Somewhere between sleep and awake, a new day and last night and tomorrow, like they’re all in a circle around me but I’m somewhere in bed where I can almost read the sentences except they blur away from me, and I keep thinking maybe sleep, maybe this is more sleep except I don’t know if I want more sleep.

thefourthvine (DW): [Meta]: The Audience

I will not bring up my disability, because I don’t talk about it here, except to say that if that part of me appears in a story, it will be as either a clever gimmick (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person) or a sob story (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person). (No, there will never be a main character just like me. Most of the time I think that’s normal, and then I look at, say, SF and think standard-issue straight white guys must have a whole different experience on this issue. How weird would it be, to have basically all mainstream media written for you like that?)

Ian Sample (at The Guardian online): Bone marrow transplants cure mental illness — in mice

The team, led by a Nobel prizewinning geneticist, found that experimental transplants in mice cured them of a disorder in which they groom themselves so excessively they develop bare patches of skin. The condition is similar to a disorder in which people pull their hair out, called trichotillomania.

lustwithwings at sexgenderbody: Do I Owe Everything I am to The Internet?

Despite their lack of a body, my friends are still quite active in the world of Social Networking which acts on the physical world in much the same way things on our mind do. The contents of the Internet affect the physical world through many of the same processes as the contents of a mind, yet the contents of the Internet as a public mind can affect many more minds, and many more bodies than a private mind.

Internet Use and Happiness

Remember that study about Internet use and depression that we discussed recently?

Well, as it turns out, there’s another study out (yay science!) that says basically the exact opposite: information technology, including access to the Internet, has been linked with happiness. Does this mean that science is hopelessly contradictory and we should just ignore the results of scientific studies? No, it means that science is a constantly evolving and changing organism that is often poorly reported-on, and that when reporters make sweeping and categorical statements based on individual studies, studies that contradict those studies show up a few weeks later and reporters don’t know what to do with them. Of course, the IT study comes from a party that does not have a neutral interest in the matter; obviously, the Chartered Institute for Information Technology has, so to speak, a horse in the race here.

The thing about most studies that get reported on in the media is that they don’t draw firm conclusions. Often, the conclusion is ‘hey, this looks interesting, we should study it more.’ However, this is not the sort of thing that attracts readers, so reporters have to push the envelope rather a lot when it comes to science reporting. This is sometimes encouraged by scientists who know that money for future research will not be forthcoming with newspaper headlines like ‘Study of Limited Group of Subjects Reveals Potentially Interesting Information and the Need for Further Study’ or ‘Study Shows That Studying This More Would Probably Be a Good Idea.’

Thus, we end up with situations where it seems like every week the media is contradicting itself when it comes to talking about science. This is unfortunate, in my opinion, because it tends to undermine the awesomeness that is science. People get sour grapes or feel doubtful about the value of scientific studies because of all the contradiction and when a study comes out and really does say something, people go ‘right, it will be contradicted next week’ because this is what they are used to. (Possible headline: ‘Study Really Does Show This, We Are Not Kidding Y’All, Seriously, This Is For Real.’)

Anyway, on to the details of the information technology and happiness study.

The study, according to Time, ‘…analyzed data from 35,000 people across the globe who took part in the World Values Survey from 2005 to 2007. Looking at a number of social and economic factors that determine happiness — including gender, age, income and education — the survey showed that Internet use empowers people by increasing their feelings of security, personal freedom and influence.’

There are several notable findings from the study. One was that age didn’t appear to be a factor; no matter what age an IT user, benefits were experienced, which belies the claims that older adults don’t know how to use IT and can’t get benefits out of technology. People of low income and people in the developing world seemed to benefit more, a finding borne out by other studies that show that access to technology can improve quality of life for people in both these situations. IT, including the Internet, can provide people with powerful tools and resources. It opens up new opportunities. So it’s not surprising to learn that disadvantaged people experience benefits from interacting with information technology. Not that IT is the great equaliser (it’s not), but it creates possibilities.

The study showed that access was the important thing, as well, however people might get that access. This is very exciting to me because it validates efforts by organisations all over the world to get IT in some form into needy communities. It doesn’t necessarily have to be high speed and a laptop in every home; if a community Internet cafe can be established, it will have benefits for the community. If that cafe can be made safe, accessible, affordable, convenient to get to, and easy to access at all hours, that would provide access to a pretty broad swath of the community.

One finding that could not be explained was that women, in particular, seem to experience more IT-related happiness than men. There are all sorts of theories about it in the articles I’ve read on the study, but a lot of them rely on gender essentialism. This is something I notice repeatedly in science reporting; if something affects women, instead of being probed more deeply, it’s sort of written off and shoved to the back of the reporter’s mind. Clearly, if it involves women, it’s less-than; how many newspapers put stories featuring women in the ‘life and style’ section, no matter what they’re about?

The researchers noted that access to information technology provides people with a sense of ‘more freedom and control.’ This makes me wonder if the link here has to do with the denial of bodily autonomy, freedom, and control that women experience. Perhaps information technology is linked with happiness in women because it’s allowed them to create safe spaces. What do you think? Do you have a theory that might explain this finding?

It would be interesting to see this apparent link explored a little more in future studies.

Link found via reaching the shore.

Yeah, what *about* your free speech “rights”?

Here at FWD, it is not unusual for us to get quite a few comments in mod that question, take issue with, or outright berate our fairly rigorous comments policy and iterations thereof in varying degrees. Many of these comments are some variation of “But what about my right to express my opinion?” or “But…free speech!”

Unsurprisingly, many of the comments that try to take us to task for “prohibiting” free speech are from non-regular (and, in some cases, first-time) commenters. I try to give people — on the internet and off — the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps these folks who try to direct the conversation to their supposed right to say whatever they want “because of the First Amendment” are just unaware that many social justice-focused blogs — especially those written by people who are members of various marginalized and/or traditionally underrepresented groups — have commenting policies, usually for very specific reasons. Perhaps they think that the First Amendment entitles them to say whatever they want without also getting called on it. Perhaps they think that bigoted or hateful speech is okay, since it’s “just” on the internet and therefore cannot be taken seriously or do any “real” damage. Perhaps they think that someone needs to pay Devil’s advocate when talking to (or about) disabled feminists and other people who do not represent (or are not represented by) the majority, and they are reasonable/intellectual enough to do the job!

Here’s the thing: This website is not  run by U.S. government or employees of the U.S. government who are representing their place of work. This is a privately-owned website.  Its contributors, commenters and readers are not all from or living in the U.S. The First Amendment applies, by and large, to the United States government’s attempts to contain and/or regulate things that people say or opinions that they want to express in myriad formats. In other words, “freedom of expression” does not automatically mean that you can bust out with some bigoted crap, and then whine or call foul when the blogger or author chooses not to publish or engage with said bigoted crap, or when someone else (perhaps another commenter) calls you on this crap. Free speech is not equivalent to some sort of magical blogular free-for-all. The “free speech!!11” defense (if you want to call it that) also has the unintentional side effect of privileging US-centric notions of being able to say certain things, apparently without consequence — something that some other countries do not appear to take so lightly (see, for example, British libel laws).

From a more anecdata-ish perspective, I have noticed that many of the people, at least on the internet, who cry “free speech!!1” in defense of their supposed right to say “un-PC” things/play Devil’s advocate/et cetera are people with various kinds of privilege (white, heterosexual, abled, cis, class–to name just a few) who simply do not seem to want to give up — or, sadly even so much as critically examine — one or more of the types of unearned privilege that they have. Put simply, they just want to shut people (who oftentimes aren’t just like them for one reason or another) up using the trump card of free speech. It seems to me that the thought process might go a little something like this: Who cares if there’s a person (or people) on the other side of that computer screen? I have the right to steamroll over their lived experiences, or tell them how wrong they are ’cause “normal” people don’t feel this way, or tell them to suck it up/grow a thicker skin, or that they’re just making things up so they can be angry about stuff, or looking for stuff to get mad about, or seeing things that “aren’t there” (because if I can’t see it, it must not be there!) or use any number of derailing tactics that are not pertinent to the actual discussion at hand, or direct the discussion to my experiences and feelings as a privileged/non-marginalized person and thus re-center my own (and the majority’s) importance in a discussion that is not even about me, because it’s within my FREE SPEECH!!1 rights to do all of this and more!

Boy, that must be really fun, getting to justify making things all about you and your “rights” all of the time in spaces that are run by people who are — gasp! — different than you, and who may not have much of a safe ‘net space anyway, since the entire web is full of people who probably share at least some of your oh-so-contrarian outlook on things (not to mention some of your privilege[s]).

The free-speechers also tend to miss one important thing: If they want to spew uninformed, privilege-encrusted opinions using this excuse, and their comment gets published publicly, it is perfectly within reason for bloggers, writers and other commenters to use their free speech “rights” to respond right back.

Internet Use and Depression

Readers may be aware of a study published earlier this year which seemed to suggest a link between Internet use and depression. “The Relationship Between Excessive Internet Use and Depression” was published by researchers at the University of Leeds. A number of news outlets picked the story up, with a variety of sensational headlines. Given that news outlets have been publishing scare articles for years about how the Internet makes everyone isolated and depressed, I’m always curious to delve a little bit more deeply into the studies cited to see if they actually came to the conclusions reported in the media.

Science reporting in the mainstream media can be pretty dubious. Journalists exaggerate conclusions or massage the numbers so that they can have a more extreme headline or so that they can make stronger claims in their articles. And few articles examine or question the methodology of the studies they report on. I don’t think this is because journalists reporting on science don’t know how to question methodology. I think it’s because they think that the general public is not interested or isn’t capable of following.

I think that’s an erroneous assumption. Depriving members of the public of deeper analysis on the assumption that they aren’t interested or can’t follow is just insulting. And since this study is being bandied about a lot, I thought it might be worth discussing it here. Please note that I am not a scientist, so I’m not really qualified to critique scientific methodologies in-depth, at all; other contribs and readers are scientists and may have additional thoughts which I would love to read in comments.

The first question to ask when looking at a study is how the sample was selected. In this case, it was a convenience sample, which makes the conclusions of the study less firm. The study was based on an online questionnaire, which 1,319 people responded to. However, respondents were sought out with advertisements on social networking sites based in the United Kingdom. That’s immediately self-selecting and limiting; respondents were limited not to the entire pool of people using the Internet, but to English speaking people utilizing social networking sites in the United Kingdom who clicked on ads. And, of course, people who don’t use the Internet could not be used as a basis for comparison in the study because they weren’t recruited.

Over at [citation needed], Tal Yarkoni points out that using this sample methodology is “…the equivalent of trying to establish cell phone usage patterns by randomly dialing only land-line numbers” in his critique “internet uses causes depression! or not.” (By the way, I would highly recommend reading his critique of the study, which gets into much more detail about the methodology and includes things like numbers! And citations!)

Participants were asked to fill out three separate surveys: the Internet Function Questionnaire, which is designed to assess the proportion of time online spent doing various activities; the Internet Addiction Test, used to assess whether or not someone might be classified with Internet addiction; and the Beck Depression Inventory, a popular metric for depression assessment. Using the responses, the researchers found that there appeared to be a correlation between Internet addiction and depression.

But does that correlation really hold up?

There are some serious problems with the framing of the questionnaires used in this study. For example, people are asked to respond to questions like “do you think you spend too much time online,” but the researchers did not directly ask users to report on how much time they spend online. “Too much time” for one person might be five hours a week, for someone else it might be 72 hours a week. Self reporting in general is also flawed because respondents may be primed to respond in one way or another. If self reporting cannot be backed up with additional data, it can be a bit dodgy. How do we decide when Internet use becomes “excessive,” especially since that probably varies from person to person?

And let’s examine the questions used in the Internet Addiction Test a bit more closely, because some of them might surprise you.

“How often do you form new relationships with fellow online users?” Hi, FWD readers! This site exists solely because of the formation of new relationships with online users; all of the FWD contributors met online. Indeed, FWD is structured around the formation of new relationships with online users, as is a lot of the blogosphere. Especially for people with disabilities, the Internet can actually be a really valuable source of interpersonal connections. Several FWD contributors rarely leave their homes and use the Internet as a primary resource for socialisation, and it would not surprise me at all to learn that some FWD readers fall into the same category. For me, for example, forming new relationships with fellow online users is a source of enrichment.

“How often do you fear that life without the Internet would be boring, empty, and joyless?” That’s a pretty loaded question. Empty and joyless? Not so much, for me, but perhaps for some. Boring? Yes. Although I can’t say that I “fear” this, it’s more something that I note. As I discussed above, for people with disabilities, the Internet provides opportunities for socialisation which would not be available otherwise. Both of these questions seem to assume that the only people who use the Internet are able and that there’s no way that Internet relationships and communities could replace real life ones. Or that for people who do the majority of their socialisation online, their socialisation somehow is not real, or is lesser than real life socialisation.

“How often do you feel preoccupied with the Internet when off-line, or fantasize about being on-line?” Fairly frequently, given that I have the keys to several servers and I fret about them when I’m not around. Which is fairly understandable, just like it’s understandable for people to worry about the welfare of things they are responsible for in the real world. Like other questions in the test, this privileges outside world concerns over online ones, and seems to ignore the role that the Internet can play in some lives.

I’m not going to go through all of the questions; I just wanted to give you a small sampling. Some of these questions are rather leading, and they don’t fully consider the fact that people communicate and socialise in different ways. I am apparently “experiencing occasional or frequent problems because of the Internet [and] should consider their full impact on [my] life,” according to my responses.

Correlation is not causation, as I frequently mutter to myself when reading or listening to science reporting. When you get down to it, the sample size was too small and too flawed to be meaningfully applied to the population, and it ignored an important question: If there is a correlation between Internet use and depression in the general population, is it because the Internet depresses people? Or is it because people with depression are more likely to use the Internet? And if that’s the case, is that a bad thing? I don’t think so.