Essentially everyone in the developed world has at their fingertips access to all of humanity’s knowledge accumulated over millennia.
There are talks of making access to internet a basic human right – in fact, there is a UN report declaring it. The benefits of interconnectivity are obvious – in an age where information is the most sough-after commodity, a method to quickly transfer information is indispensable to modern society. And yet humanity has found itself unprepared to deal with opportunities and challenges posed by the global network.
Cybercriminals, which use the internet as a medium to conduct malicious acts, are nothing new, actually. They really are not that different from traditional highwaymen or con artists – all societies have parasites and only an unrealistic utopia can be truly crime-free. The new challenges that have appeared are more or less internalized by each individual participating in the global information exchange. E-mail evolved into instant messaging, bulletin boards evolved into social networks. Instead of exchanging scientific information the majority of users indulge in acts of immediate gratification by chatting with friends, viewing amusing videos and pictures and collecting ‘likes’ – the new currency of the social generation. This behavior can, in fact, be harmful and lead to “internet addiction”, and while not an epidemic, it does occur often enough for there to be studies on the subject.
Alan Stevens, The Media Coach from the UK, explains the phenomenon.
"Internet addiction is like any other addiction, like addiction a drug or addiction to gambling. It’s a compulsion to keep checking your phone, to be online all the time; to exclude your family and friends to the point where it becomes a complete obsession."
Mr. Stevens also notes the fundamental shift in our society even among those who do not become internet addicts.
The problem is that we are in the age of devices that we carry with us all the time and that are always connected. What that means is that we are constantly interrupted by alerts from people we are connected to online, which in turn takes us away from people we are with physically. I think what the problem that people have these days because they have connected devices that are always on, they tend to give them more attention than they do the people they’re actually with at the time, which is changing the nature of social contact. We are changing the way in which we react to stimuli around us and people are starting to not notice what’s happening around them. Now they’re paying more attention to what’s happening perhaps thousands of miles away because they’re chatting with somebody over the internet. So it’s really taking away people’s sense of place, it’s taking away the sense of what’s happening around them.
But perhaps it’s not all that bad – there may actually be at least an environmental benefit to people choosing their devices over physical interaction.
Owen Gaffney, Director of Communications in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences notes:
"I think one of the most interesting facts about new technology is that young people don’t want driving licenses anymore. They’re not learning to drive in the same numbers as they used to because they have a decision to make: do they want to be online or do they want to be driving their cars. And their decision is very clear: I want to be online. So some of these technologies weren’t designed to reduce emissions, but they’re having that effect."
So is increased isolation a fair price to pay for a more connected world? Will humanity choose to become ‘plugged in’ instead of physically discovering the world around us? This is not a question we can answer just yet.