Is The Internet Changing Our Lives For The Better?
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Since its inception in 1989, the internet has revolutionised all aspects of our lives, with the UK population spending more time online than anyone else in the world.
The internet affects every aspect of our lives from the way we do business, how we consume content and connect with each other. This begs the question, are all of these changes good? Even if we don’t think they are, can we do anything to stop them?
Internet & Retail
The recent demise of high street brands like HMV and Comet has left a sour taste in some consumer’s mouths.
The disruptive nature of the ‘iStreet’ has completely decimated the offline high street as we know it. But the very people complaining about the closure of HMV may be the ones who are buying their CD’s and DVDs from elsewhere.
Mary McCall, the Managing Director of Treat Ticket suggests that HMV didn’t do anything spectacular or unique, with the very same products available from local supermarkets and possibly most importantly, they weren’t the cheapest.
If we take a look back over the last decade, music lovers were complaining about how HMV cannibalised the high street, and led to the demise of independent record stores.
Is this just a case of consumers losing control of where they spend hard earned cash?
Not only is the internet offering a new platform for consumers to purchase goods, it is also influencing what we are buying.
A recent study by Nielsen suggests the internet influences 81% of consumers who are looking for electronics, 77% for appliances and 70% for books.
With online advertising, SEO and social media, the internet could be having more of an effect on what we buy than we may think.
American researchers found that technology firms like Apple, Google and Microsoft are trusted equally as much or more than traditional news sources like newspapers.
Bearing in mind that all of these firms are profit making with vested interests, is this worrying?
Recent press scandals in the UK have done the industry no favours in regards to trust and accountability. Search engines offer a free market matrix for news stories, which rank highly based on a variety of trust factors.
Therefore who is to say that this is necessarily a bad thing?
Evidence suggests that people trust technology simply because they must. 10 years ago, consumers worried about sharing bank details online.
Through Amazon and PayPal, amongst others, addressing these issues with digital innovations, the landscape has changed, with over 79% of the UK population buying goods online at one time or another.
If you do not trust technology, with the high street dissipating and choice becoming limited, you must simply go without.
Could this be the reason people blame the internet for the demise of the high street, in an almost protest vote?
Perhaps slightly more worrying for some, is the evidence which suggests the internet is actually changing the way our brains work.
Traditional printed media such as books and newspapers not only provide information; they also shape opinions, challenge readers and encourage analysis.
With the amount of information now at our fingertips, a new content marketing industry has been created, who offer strategies to make commercial content go viral.
The future is interactive and video, allowing easy consumption, the days of the traditional article are possibly numbered.
Content consumption is on the up, and with the introduction of smartphones, content is literally at our fingertips. With the ease in which we can consume information, many people are losing the capacity for concentration and contemplation. Nicholas Carr poetically claimed “Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words, now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
The amount of young people in the UK who read books has dramatically fallen, with recent studies by the National Literacy Trust suggesting more than a fifth of children never reading in their free time.
This worry is amplified by the fact reading for pleasure has been revealed by the OECD as the most important indicator of the future success of a child.
However, is this necessarily bad for the youth of today? Before the internet existed, the vice of the youth was TV, particularly encompassing the MTV generation.
Studies suggest that kids who watch TV suffer significantly higher blood pressure. These spikes were not witnessed when the same test was performed with a computer.
Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons, both psychologists, have stated “There is simply no experimental evidence to show that living with new technologies fundamentally changes brain organisation in a way that affects one’s ability to focus”.
Possibly one of the biggest changes we are witnessing is the way we interact and live with each other. The ways we can communicate online are endless, with a new social platform being launched almost weekly.
In an ever separated life, surely being able to communicate with friends and family when they are across the other side of the globe is a good thing.
Take dating for example, one time it was based on a great deal of luck, and going out into the real world to find a partner. Now, you can go to one of the many online dating websites, type in some details and find a match based on an algorithm taking into consideration interests and likes.
This is great for people who don’t have a lot of time or are struggling to find a partner, but what about the people who are able to find partners offline? Is it incentivising staying in and using a computer instead?
The wider social implications of an online free for all are becoming apparent. One aspect that isn’t so pretty is ‘Internet Trolling’. Due to the anonymity of the internet, many people have begun posting inflammatory comments on social media sites.
YouTube and Facebook comments are flush with people criticising one another, and had led to some high profile cases where ‘Trolls’ have ended up in jail.
Alternatively, the Arab Springs showcased how social media can be a tool for political change. In countries that do not have free press, social media can be an outlet for populations to share ideas and the power cannot be underestimated when it can overthrow dictatorships.
At a primary level, social media reduces communication barriers and allows families and friends to communicate right across the globe. The implications of this are seemingly both incredibly good and bad at the same time.
The internet is simply a platform. At a primary level, it allows people to communicate and share knowledge.
How people interact with it is up to the individual, which is arguably why it is the most powerful advancement of the last century.
The internet has and will continue to change our lives. Depending on what people do with it will determine if these changes will continue to be good.
It is up to businesses, communities and us as internet users to be ethical, because remember, with great power, comes great responsibility.
What About You?
Do you think the internet is changing our lives for the better or worse? Leave a comment below and let me know.
About the author
Jonathan Dempster is a digital marketer interested in how social media is developing into more than a marketing tool, becoming an all-encompassing backbone to your business.