I-dosing Phenomenon in Modern World
The Cultural Power of the Moral Panic over I-Dosing
Moral panics surrounding the health, wellbeing, and behavior of teenagers have flared up consistently over the past decade, from getting drunk off vodka tampons to getting ‘high’ off MP3s downloaded on the Internet, or i-dosing. The popularity of the Internet among youth has inflamed moral panics, in which parents shift the blame onto a media form due to their fears about a new technology or a cultural phenomenon that they cannot control, and which they perceive as negatively impacting society. In his article The Cultural Power of an Anti-Television Metaphor, Jason Mittell discusses how framing a perceived societal ill as similar to a drug makes people believe it is a public health threat. The scientifically baseless moral panic of i-dosing illustrates the fears of parents, community authority figures, and the media that the Internet facilitates teenagers engaging in immoral behavior.
The moral panic of i-dosing began in a small Oklahoma community, Mustang, before spreading to national US media and beyond. In March 2010, three students of Mustang High School in Oklahoma, seemingly intoxicated, were taken to the principal’s office for questioning (Colberg). The teenagers blamed their state on a phenomenon known as i-dosing, in which users listen to music that plays a different tone in each ear, creating binaural beats (Colberg). Supposedly, i-dosing can alter brainwaves and induce a drug-like state. These three teenagers—who previously were known as clean-cut kids—created a storm of concern from parents and authorities alike. The district’s Superintendent became involved, followed by the city of Shawnee’s Chief Operating Officer of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery (Colberg). Less than a week after the local Oklahoma newspaper ran the story, the Huffington Post picked up the story with the headline “DIGITAL DRUGS: How Teens Are Using The Internet To Get ‘High’” (Smith). A few days later, CBS News picked up the story with a video segment.
International media, including The Daily Mail and BBC News from the United Kingdom, soon ran articles about the phenomena. Both international news pieces cited a statement put out by the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs warning that parents need to “take action” to “save these kids” from the dangers of i-dosing and the Internet more generally (Iwasinski). The moral panic of i-dosing peaked in the summer of 2010, but has continued to persist in some form, as reflected by the introduction of the April 2013 Undergraduate Research & Community Engagement Symposium at the University of North Carolina Asheville centered around i-dosing (University of North Carolina 2013). The website “nobullying.com,” which assists parents and teachers in eradicating cyber-bullying, still maintains a page about the dangers of i-dosing that was last updated in September 2016 (nobullying.com).
The entire moral panic of i-dosing began with one incident at a small Oklahoma high school that may have been fabricated. Unlike physical drugs, the presence of i-dosing cannot be detected in the bloodstream or through any other medical proof. As Duncan Geere explained in his article for Wired Magazine, any reactions a teenager claims to have from i-dosing could range from a placebo effect to simple peer pressure—if their friends believe i-dosing works, they will too (Geere). Media, such as The Daily Mail, cited as proof for the effects of i-dosing sources including YouTube videos and comments on websites about i-dosing detailing its effects (Bates). However, comments about the drug-like effects of i-dosing on websites dedicated to selling i-dosing MP3s are unreliable source of information. Further, the origins of i-dosing (the use of binaural beats) can be dated back to the research of Heinrich Wilhelm Dove in 1839 (Doyle). These binaural beats have since been used to treat anxiety and clinically research sleep cycles; yet there is no proof that it can actually intoxicate someone (Doyle). Despite almost two centuries of scientific consensus that i-dosing is safe, one incident at an Oklahoma high school with formerly “straight-laced” teenagers and a multitude of YouTube videos and Internet comments of dubious reliability were enough to spread this moral panic.
Ultimately, fears about i-dosing and the resulting moral panic stemmed from ongoing parental and societal concern about teenagers’ use of drugs. I-dosing and the Internet became a scapegoat for the already present societal ill of teenage drug use. Repeated across several news articles, and included in the statement from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, was the sentiment that i-dosing would tempt teenagers into trying harder drugs (Iwasinski). Regardless of the ineffectiveness of i-dosing, organizations and media touted it as a gateway drug. Websites that offer i-dosing downloads have ads prompting users to buy other illicit drugs and alcohol, inciting further concern (Colberg). While some i-dosing videos are available on Youtube, others must be purchased on harder to access websites (Geere). Karina Forrest-Perkins, chief operating officer of Gateway to Prevention and Recovery in Shawnee, Oklahoma, was quoted as warning, “Kids disappointed in their digital experience might try huffing paint or another chemical, or smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol” (Colberg). The health website—targeted at parents—called “health.more4kids.info” opens its page on i-dosing by reminding parents of the drugs they were exposed to as teenagers, then explains how i-dosing will prompt their children to try illicit drugs (More4kids).
As Mittell discusses, fears surrounding drug use are particularly potent for the sort of white, middle-class audiences that websites like “health.more4kids.info” target because they evoke images of poorer, non-white communities that are seen as different and inferior (Mittell 232). Something that acts as an avenue to drug use—in this case, free and uncontrolled access to the Internet—must be bad in the eyes of the general public because it leads to their children becoming like those “other” supposedly “lesser” communities (Mittell 233). Thus, whether i-dosing actually results in a ‘high’ is not the most important part to those fanning the flames of the moral panic. Rather, parents are more concerned with how access to i-dosing through unfettered access to the Internet by teenagers will lead them down a path to known vices—hard drugs and alcohol.
In the aftermath of the moral panic surrounding i-dosing, many dismissed not only the claim that i-dosing is effective at replicating drug-like effects, but also that it presents a danger to teenagers at all. An article on techdirt.com mocked the idea perpetuated by the mainstream media that teenagers who found i-dosing to be ineffective would instead turn to hard physical drugs, instead suggesting that it would turn them away from drugs altogether (Masnick). While authoring an article for the UK’s Wired Magazine, Duncan Geere tried listening to a i-dose himself and concluded that he had “never felt so sober in [his] life,” before dismissing i-dosing as an issue deserving attention (Geere). Further, he asserts that trying “extreme experiences” and then bragging about them to friends is a natural part of being a teenager, and says there is “nothing wrong” with those things (ibid). This disparate reaction to the moral panic of i-dosing can be attributed in part to understanding how teenagers consume media. Mittell explains how those that spread moral panics often view children and teenagers as vulnerable, passive, uneducated, and inexperienced media consumers (Mittell 230-232). Unlike adults, some argue, children and teenagers are not capable of adequately processing and understanding the media they interact with (Mittell 232). Conversely, those who oppose these moral panics understand that children and teenagers can be thoughtful and discerning in media encounters (Mittell 232). The techdirt.com and Wired Magazine authors illustrate this latter viewpoint, as they advocate the idea that teenagers are smart enough to actually realize that i-dosing is ineffective, and will not make the leap in logic that because they have tried one ineffective “drug,” they should try to find “effective” drugs.
Much like television, the Internet has often been characterized as an addictive drug. I-dosing is simply one moral panic building off the broader framework of this metaphor. Mittell argues that once something is classified as a “drug” in the minds of the public, it follows that the “drug” should be regulated for the good of public health (Mittell 234). Thus, the moral panic becomes a means of asserting societal control over a medium—the Internet, in the case of i-dosing (ibid). This can be seen with the calls across the mainstream media for parents to better monitor their children’s internet access and use, and in schools restricting access to cellphones in order to prevent the students from using them for undesirable purposes, such as i-dosing (Iwasinski). The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics specifically issued a “call to action” for parents, stressing that they needed to be more aware of how their children were using the Internet and not dismiss it as “harmless” (Iwasinski). Thus, the moral panic of i-dosing reinforced the idea that unfettered access to the Internet harms children.
Like most moral panics, the i-dosing phenomena was less about the actual dangers of i-dosing itself and more about a long standing societal concern—in this case, teenagers experimenting with drugs. Linking a medium with drug use, as Mittell explains, is an effective way to tie it to less socially desirable people, and present children and teenagers as susceptible targets to a scapegoat medium, in order to encourage regulation of that medium. The i-dosing phenomenon illustrates how the fear of a new technology can combine with fear of a deep-seated societal ill to fan the flames of a baseless moral panic.
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