Internet is one of the most revolutionary technologies ever created by mankind. If you talk to someone who has known a world both with and without the internet, they often tell you that the internet-enabled technologies have surpassed their wildest imaginations. It is clear that the internet is still in its infancy and it will continue to shape our world for decades if not for centuries to come. However, it is also important to understand that even the most revolutionary technologies have shortcomings or the potential to be misused, and the internet has been no exception. As we have gained more experience with the internet, we have realized that the internet can impose huge costs on the individuals as well as the greater societies. The internet erodes individual privacy, hurts personal relationships, and promotes tribalism.
Easy and convenient access to information was heralded as the major achievement of internet yet this abundance of information has become the very cause of loss of individual privacy. Internet makes it possible for a total stranger in another country to gather information about a personal property of an American citizen. Similarly, database linking enables companies to identify any individual with the help of minimal information such as just the birthdate and the zipcode. This is being made possible due to a number of factors such as the declining costs of information storage as well as improving ability of the government and the corporations to gather data about individuals in a variety of ways.
Latanya Sweeney, member of the Health Information Technology policy committee under the President Obama Administration, claims that she can uniquely identify 87 percent of the U.S. population with the help of just three pieces of information, i.e. date of birth, zip code, and gender. Sweeney warns that social media has only worsened the issue of individual privacy. The threats to individual privacy will only increase because internet-enabled technologies are also collecting other types of data about us such as fingerprints, palm prints, and iris scans . It is clear that the abundance of information might be making our lives easier but such a convenience is coming at a huge loss of individual privacy.
The internet is hurting social relationships because it is replacing real world interactions and social experiences. Children are enjoying less face-to-face interactions with parents because internet technologies keep them occupied. Even when they are in the same place as their family members, their attention is consumed by internet technologies. A study found that parents were greeted by their children only 30 percent of the time when they arrived home from work, and were completely ignored 50 percent of the time. The issue is not limited to children only as adults are also guilty of being distracted by the technology when they could spend that time interacting with their children or engaging in family activities . Internet is not just hurting family dynamics but also romantic relationships. A study by Clayton, Nagurney, & Smith found that internet technologies such as social media can, particularly, hurt romantic relationships that are relatively new. The researchers found that Facebook-related conflict predicted negative relationship outcomes for couples who had been in a relationship for 36 months or less . Internet may make it easier for us to stay in touch with people that are far away but it also has the potential to damage our closest relationships if we are not careful enough.
The internet is promoting tribalism by making it easier to connect with like-minded individuals. One of the earliest promises of the internet was that it will increase tolerance and acceptance of others by making it possible for individuals from diverse backgrounds to interact with each other. While the internet has, indeed, helped reduce geographical and cultural barriers, it has also become an enabler of tribalism because it makes it easier for like-minded fellows to get together while shutting down those they don’t approve of. In other words, internet is just a technology that individuals can use anyway they desire. Internet has led to the growth of echo chambers where individuals only interact with those who think and act like them and reinforce their views and biases . In short, internet is making it possible for individuals and groups to create their own digital borders where only like-minded visitors feel welcome. Instead of breaking barriers, internet is making it possible to erect new barriers, and instead of helping people recognize and address their biases, internet may be further strengthening those biases.
In conclusion, internet is a revolutionary technology but it is also imposing huge costs on individuals and the greater society. Internet is eroding individual privacy by making it possible for the governments and the corporations to collect vast amounts of data. Internet is hurting social relationships. Children and parents are having less face-to-face interactions even when they may be in each other’s company. It is not only children but also adults who are guilty of being distracted by internet technologies. Internet was supposed to eliminate barriers yet it is helping erect new ones and promoting tribalism. Internet makes it possible for individuals to interact with like-minded fellows only and ignore others which only reinforce their biases and values. Internet reminds us that even the best technologies can be misused so it is important to be aware of their shortcomings in order to build appropriate defenses.
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