Ashesh Mukherjee’s The Internet Trap provides a perspective on the dark side of the Internet and gives readers the tools to become smarter users. An excerpt from the book:

Giving in to temptation is not always a bad thing. We sometimes find great deals online for spas, restaurants, and vacations – things that make life more fun at a price within our reach. We sometimes expand our horizons by stumbling across new music, movies, books, and points of view that we might never have considered otherwise. At other times, however, temptation has a cost. Online sales events can tempt us into buying things we neither need nor can afford. Buying a new handbag, smartphone, or watch might make us feel good momentarily, but the credit card bill later will bring us back to earth… The more we spend today, the more debt we incur, the less savings we have, and the less is our security in old age… Wasting time is also costly; the more time we spend online, the less time we have for our loved ones and the less productive we are at work.

The more we spend today, the more debt we incur, the less savings we have, and the less is our security in old age…

Researchers at Stanford University examined temptation in a study conducted in the 1960s which has become famous as the marshmallow experiment”. These researchers wanted to answer a simple question: Do children with more self-control enjoy greater success and happiness in adult life, compared to children with lower self-control? The researchers suspected that the answer was yes, because children who show higher self-control are likely to have desirable personality traits such as focus and perseverance that favor greater success in adult life as well.

So what might tempt a child? Obviously candies and snacks, which the researchers used as temptations in this study. The researchers went to a nursery school near San Francisco and secured permission to recruit children between the ages of four and six to take part in the study. The children were brought one by one into an empty room and seated at a table facing a bowl of their favorite treat. This was a bowl of marshmallows – hence the name of the experiment – but other treats such as Oreo cookies and pretzel sticks were also used in later studies. The children were told that the teacher would leave the room for 15 minutes, and while waiting for their teacher to come back, they could have one (and only one) marshmallow if they wanted. If, however, they waited for the teacher to come back without eating anything, they could have two marshmallows instead of one. The teacher then left the room and the children’s behavior was secretly recorded for the next 15 minutes.

What did the researchers find? Their find is not particularly surprising, especially for those of us who have children. Of the 600 or so children who participated in the experiment, more than 60 percent did not wait for 15 minutes to collect their two promised marshmallows, instead promptly eating one marshmallow in their teacher’s absence. The researchers then observed these two groups of children – those who ate one marshmallow without waiting, and those who waited for their two marshmallows – for the next 30 years. What they found was quite remarkable. The children who gave in to temptation during the experiment by eating a marshmallow as soon as the teacher left did worse than those who waited on many indicators of success, such as school grades, SAT scores, income, divorce rates, and physical health. On all of these outcomes, the conclusion was clear – the ability to resist temptation and postpone gratification at an early age, on a seemingly minor task, was related to many later successes in life.

Of the 600 or so children who participated in the experiment, more than 60 percent did not wait for 15 minutes to collect their two promised marshmallows, instead promptly eating one marshmallow in their teacher’s absence.

Of course, there is an important caveat for studies like this which unfold over an extended period of time. It is possible that the two groups of children in the study – those who waited and those who did not – had different life experiences after the marshmallow task, and these life experiences could be driving the difference in outcomes between the groups. Even allowing for this caveat, it is worth noting that the results were consistent across virtually every measure in the study, suggesting that its basic finding is reliable – early self-control in the face of temptation is an indicator of later success in life.

An addiction is where a person engages in activity that is pleasurable at the present moment but harmful to other responsibilities in life such as work, relationships, or health.

Another danger is that temptations can sometimes mutate into addiction. An addiction is where a person engages in activity that is pleasurable at the present moment but harmful to other responsibilities in life such as work, relationships, or health. Three types of addictive behaviors are especially prevalent on the Internet: gaming, shopping, and pornography. Gaming has grown from simple Pac-Man-style arcade entertainment to complex online games such as World of Warcraft, featuring multiple levels, intricate plots, and multiplayer interaction… Hardcore gamers are known to spend more than 18 hours a day playing online games, in a thriving gamer sub-culture with its own discussion boards, tournaments, and annual conventions.

Extracted from The Internet Trap, Five Costs of Living Online by Ashesh Mukherjee with permission from Rupa Publications’. (INR 295, 192 pp)

Also Read: Meet The Two Wives In Adithi Rao’s Left From The Nameless Shop

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