Tuesday, 21 June 2011


The Internet Revolution may not represent as great an impact as the Industrial Revolution that started in northwest Europe in the mid-18th century, but it does mean far reaching effects for the duration in everything from communications to human values. Just as the Industrial Revolution changed the social structure and political and economic institutions, just as it changed culture and human relationships, so is the web having a similar impact on society in the 21st century. The question is to what degree does this revolution contribute to the greater good of humanity and to what degree to its detriment; a question also asked of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century.

Just as it is unimaginable to live without all the techno-advancements of the Industrial Revolution, it is equally unimaginable to most people, governments, business, and all institutions from schools to churches in most countries to live and work without the internet as life's central tool. As many benefits as cyber-technology has brought to the world, it has also created serious problems, everything from child pornography to facilitating human trafficking and the drug trade. The internet has also made possible the lack of privacy in peoples' lives and the web addiction to which many succumb.

There are estimates that as many as one-third of all teens and pre-teens are addicted to video games and the internet, while at least 10% of adults are addicted. Although the internet accounts for problems in the lives of 20% of users in their lives, they are compulsive users that cannot break the habit. Subconsciously, many use the internet as a form of therapy, whether that is in the form of entertainment that ranges from gambling to sex talk or owing to a sense of alienation from the world and fear of facing real people as opposed to virtual ones on the web.

Some psychologists call it 'Internet Addiction Disorder', but the label deals narrowly with the emotional pathology and its consequences is meaningless and does not address the many complex problems associated with web addiction and its underlying causes and costs to individuals and to society. Web addition has been rising rapidly in the last decade, especially among the young. It has moved into the mainstream of society and it is omnipresent. Everywhere a person goes, from home to the airport, from the office to the local library, from the cafe to the hotel the web is there to entice, and if it is not, you can have it on your cell phone. Android phone is indeed the correct terminology, for a device replacing the human brain.

The overwhelming majority of people in the US and in other advanced capitalist countries organize their lives around the internet. The majority meet people, from casual friends to potential partners, via the web. The process is made easier by massive sites promoting online dating and marriage services. Besides the well-know name brands that connect people, there are free and paid services that have replaced the traditional face-to-face of meeting people, even if they work down in the next office from you.

This impersonal method of communicating changes everything about human interactions and way of thinking about relationships as well as personal identity. Women and men go online, partly because it is convenient but also because they feel safe owing to the indirect manner of communication and the ease with which they can construct an image based on manufactured-truths about their identity. There are marketing firms that use what psychologists call "Internet Dependency Relations" (IDR) to predict online consumer activity and trends. In short, the ailment of a segment of the population has marketable value.

The Internet Revolution has redefined friendship. People may list several thousand 'internet friends' that they have never met or know anything about. These same people may have no friends with which to associate in person, but they live with the illusion of having 'group support' owing to their web following. More significant, the cyberspace virtual world in which people live has replaced the empirical world of daily life as the former has become the cause for all sorts of problems that includes everything from increase in web-shopping and gambling to rise in divorce rates.

Despite its detrimental impact on society to which it contributes alienation, the web is an excellent source of information. Internet has democratized the process of analyzing news stories that were once the domain of government and official political opposition. However, the web also contains a great deal of useless and dangerous information along with precious information and analysis about various topics from hard science to politics. Many people are often unable to distinguish what is credible and what is unadulterated trash that someone lacking in knowledge, emotional stability and/or the values that contribute to society's edification has placed on the web. Amazingly, many people believe that if something appears on the web, it must be so.

While the internet revolution has benefited businesses, society has experienced downward socioeconomic mobility during the internet revolution. Just as the Industrial Revolution created massive wealth and sharp rise in poverty, internet technology accounts for faster and more efficient way of doing business, some of which includes old practices that are now communicated via cyberspace. At the same time, this latest revolution has not delivered on the promise of economic democracy, as the trend in the past two decades has been downward social mobility.

The internet revolution has made possible mass social movements against authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa. The internet revolution has made possible the mass protests in Europe; communication of information by 'indignant' masses from Madrid to Athens and the rest of the world. The internet has made it possible for a college student in Beijing to be watching TV news casts about the Communist Government's economic accomplishments, while reading a web article questioning the social costs of such economic progress.

As a tool like any other, the internet has the potential for improving society, although the benefits are few to the masses and many to businesses. The same technology used to defraud investors in the stock market, the same technology used for guiding drone planes that kill indiscriminately is also used in hospitals to cure patients. The internet shapes identity and society, it shapes institutions and promotes antagonistic competition and cooperation; it provides instant knowledge about everything from quantum mechanics to Christian mysticism. Just as with the first Industrial Revolution, the Internet Revolution will be judged on its usefulness to society and the cost/benefit ratio.


mikerana said...

A very well written article ... matches with chapter media on my book, A wonderful world

prathima said...

A wonderful write up. Very eloquent and logical in its flow.