The Invisible Impact of the Internet

The God-like technology of the internet can sometimes be blinding, as the power of the world at your fingertips can often become overwhelming, making it easy to lose sight of the people in front of you.

With Dr. Hilarie Cash, I embarked on this international project to investigate how the internet is impacting communities across the world, starting in Kenya.

A note from Hilarie

Ryan and I went to Kenya in January 2023, to study the effects of the Internet on that society. Ryan was

the videographer, capturing our experiences with his camera, while I, a psychotherapist, was there to

ask many questions.

I am the Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer for reSTART Life, a program for Internet addicts that we

started in 2009. We have primarily been a residential program, but we also have clients who are either

in our transition program (post the intensive, residential) or are strictly outpatient. Our clients are

usually adolescent or young adult men. When we opened, social media had not developed to the point

it is today and our clients were mainly involved with massive multiplayer gaming. They also looked at a

lot of anime and sexual abuse material (i.e., porn). Today, our clients still do a lot of the same things,

but, increasingly, social media plays a role in their addiction. Then, as now, they suffer from a variety of

other problems. They are typically depressed, anxious, lonely, and in poor physical health. They often

have poor social skills, difficulties with executive functioning (focusing, planning, organizing), and low

levels of self-confidence, skills for emotion regulation and, even, simple life-skills (e.g., cooking, cleaning,

personal hygiene).

I was sure that there would be differences from the USA, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Would

there be vast video gaming halls, as there are in Korea and China? Would I hear about kids getting

involved early in online games, as is so often the case in the US and many other parts of the world?

That is not what I found. In fact, playing online multiplayer games was not a common experience at all.

Why? There are multiple reasons, including poverty, which, for so many people in Kenya, prevents the

purchase of high-powered gaming equipment and endless Internet time. What more and more people

pay for is a smartphone, with whatever amount of access to the Internet they can afford. And, like here,

people found many ways to use their access, with both positive and negative effects. Social media,

dating sites, sexual abuse material, betting, and casual gaming, were all identified as common areas of

experience and concern. Some parents set limits to protect their children; most did not. As far as I could

learn, there has been no discussion in the media, in schools, or anywhere else of how to protect children

from potential harms. The people we spoke with recognized that that needs to change, and some

inspiring folks are working on it.

What I also found were lovely people who were incredibly generous and kind to us. I found friendship

and collaboration that has expanded my personal and professional world beyond the confines of my

culture. I feel blessed.

-Hilarie Cash