In yesterday’s blog,  I argued that television might contribute to the recent epidemic of emotional and unexplained physical illness because it makes us immediately aware of the threats to our existence,  it offers the most exciting but most dysfunctional responses to emotional dilemmas and it cuts us off  from the community that might help us resolve difficult situations.  These factors create a rise in emotional tension while failing to offer any means of resolution.  


So if television is bad for our health, what about personal computers and the internet.  Do they also contribute to illness for similar reasons or might they actually have a more healthy influence?  


The ability to obtain detailed and for the most part reliable information on any topic,  the increase ease of written communication, the ability to organise our lives from our desktop – paying bills, sending letters, selling items on eBay, arranging finances and investments, having meetings, watching films, even dating   all of this has transformed the efficiency of our lives.  In theory this must make life easier and and by reducing the hassle and frustration, diminish emotional tension and allow us more time to pursue a more healthy lifestyle. 


The internet is a much more interactive medium than television. We are not just passive recipients. We choose, out of millions of possibilities, the sites we interact with . We can have a dialogue, construct virtual relationships, engage with a virtual community.  


It appears that the internet will be the medium through which we will all communicate in the future.  Face to face interaction with suppliers, colleagues, friends, our bank manager, estate agent, lawyer, doctor, the person at the post office, will no longer be necessary.  That will certainly be more efficient, but will it keep us happy or healthy? 


The internet offers a virtual, as if, existence, a substitute for the real relationships.  Will that be enough?   


It may well be enough to pay bills, but can you have a satisfactory consultation with a doctor or a lawyer on the net.  Can you have a useful session with a psychotherapist via a webcam.  Can anybody have a satisfactory sexual experience on the world wide web?  


Human relationships have to be conducted person to person.  It is said that 93% of human communication is non-verbal using all of our senses, touch, smell, hearing, as well as vision.   We can pick up cues, attitudes, character, beliefs , personality through gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, tone of voice, body language.  This comprehensive communication eases our fears of separation and abandonment,  provide that  essential sense of belonging.  Loneliness is probably the more prevalent illness of our time.   


Isn’t there something important about the chance relationship who live close to us, that everyday discussion about the weather, our family, what the council are doing to our local services, that induces a sense of belonging, community that we can’t get from the internet?       


But at the same time, we are so skilled at making ‘as if’ relationships.  It is part of the human condition to imagine relationships and stories, often from relatively few cues.  Isn’t this enough to sustain us?   Don’t we all imagine that we know Gordon Brown, or George Bush?   Don’t we feel that we belong to Team GB at the Olympics.  I think we do, just as I believe that people who are isolated and lonely – the infirm and the elderly – derive a real sense of connection from The Archers or Coronation Street.  It is something, it is a kind of connection, but it can never be a substitute.    


How would we feel if our children were brought up by some interactive internet programme.  It wouldn’t work, would it?  There is more to bringing up children that vision.  Telly tubbies may keep children entranced for a bit, but this is not a whole care package.  Children left to their play stations and televisions, can never grow up with the necessary interactive social skills that will allow them to deal with all the situations that modern life throws at them while remaining healthy.


So, while I think that our computer and internet are better than nothing, especially for those suffering from the most prevalent sickness of our society – loneliness, it can never be a substitute for community, family, that essential sense of belonging that we need and share with all other social species.