A WA university academic has warned that the internet could be costing humans their imagination.

After 25 years of research into internet use and its effect on children, Sean Goltz, a senior lecturer at Edith Cowan University Joondalup’s school of business law, said there were arguments for technology’s positive impact on our ability to connect and access information, but the internet was inherently bad.

He said the internet’s values — including materialism, fame and self-interest — stood in direct conflict with society’s traditional values.

Dr Goltz also likened the rise of the internet to the biblical tale of the Tower of Babel, in which humans banded to build a tower tall enough to reach heaven.

“The things that motivated people to build the tower — arrogance, thinking with technology we can beat God, focusing on the marginal rather than the central, oppression of an individual for the collective — are the same things that motivate us now on the internet,” he said.

“Everything becomes about internet fame, about likes, shares, going viral.”

Where we used to help others for the sake of helping others, Dr Goltz said we increasingly did so with a camera handy to post the act and hopefully get online praise.

He said this threatened to create a world where children’s imagination and cognition were unable to develop to their potential and where the values of the internet prevailed.

“If you get a child to play online instead of playing with physical objects, their imagination doesn’t develop in the same way as it does when they are outside,” Dr Goltz said.

“Often from media we get ready-made images, ready-made content that doesn’t require us to do anything at all.”

He said he had received requests from parents everywhere asking for help to regulate their children’s internet use.

Dr Goltz said the usual restriction techniques were not the answer.

“Setting strict rules doesn’t work,” he said. “What’s important is for parents to talk with their children and make them aware of the fact that the internet is not neutral, that it has values, and those values do not match up with traditional values.

“Explain to them why they should follow traditional values of compassion and selflessness, and explain why the internet isn’t always good.

“It can be hard to teach children to be critical of technology because they take it for granted and don’t stop to question it.

“But it’s important to ask those questions, like why is Kim Kardashian famous? What has she done? And realising that maybe it’s because she represents what technology promotes.”