‘I-dosing’: Digital audio as virtual ‘drug’?

By Anne Collier

The headline in the Huffington Post is certainly misleading, suggesting that the Internet is a “digital drug,” but so is the article about binaural (two-toned) digital music that can be heard on CDs and MP3 players as well as the Internet. These audio files are “designed to induce drug-like effects,” according to News 9 in Oklahoma City, which cites the state’s Bureau of Narcotics as saying that they “could lead kids [searching them out on the Web] to other places” selling drug paraphernalia. According to Wired, “i-dosing involves donning headphones and listening to ‘music’ – largely a droning noise – which the sites peddling the sounds promise will get you high.” However, Skeptoid.com, writing about the science of binaural sound, suggests that sites selling the audio are at worst scamming users or at best following in the footsteps of Muzak, which “built an industry on relaxing music [designed to] keep people in the mood to shop…. But, we’ve never found any reliable indication that a binaural beat’s connection to our brain is any deeper or more meaningful than any other music track.” The Muzak wannabe sites encourage people to buy “a 40-page guide so that they learn how to properly get high on MP3s,” Wired reports. It wouldn’t hurt to talk about this at your house and make sure nobody’s getting scammed because of curiosity.

What may be good about this “viral” story (not the audio files themselves) is that it gets us closer to the research that shows how the online risk spectrum – from exposure to age-inappropriate content to self-destructive behavior to victimization by others – mirrors the offline one (the way the “living Internet” mirrors offline life) and is just as broad. I hope it’s becoming clearer to adults that the Internet and digital media themselves aren’t by themselves some sort of new “threat” added to children’s (and parents’) lives, but that what the Net does do cuts both ways: 1) on the negative side, it can amplify and extend mean behavior and school drama (see “The Net effect” on how the Net does change the equation), and 2) on the positive side, it can expose negative behaviors so they can be researched, understood, and addressed faster and more extensively than ever before.

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