Internet, Social Impact of
The Internet, popularized through the World Wide Web, has applications for communication, information sharing, commerce, gaming, and interactive activities. Literally a “network of networks,” consisting of millions of smaller domestic, academic, business, and secured government networks, the Internet is a vehicle for the transfer of information and services, such as electronic mail, online chat, computer file transfer, file sharing, text documents, images, multimedia, and other items of information.
The Five Waves of Internet Use
The use of the Internet has developed and been applied socially through five waves of development and use that are in a state of flux and ongoing: (1) physical connection and ease of use; (2) socialization Page 448 | Top of Articleand new channels of communication; (3) information; (4) commerce; and (5) gaming/entertainment and interactive experience. All five waves have implications for education. Through these waves of development, the Internet has been applied to the human experience and created a social phenomenon.
Physical Connection and Ease of Use. The first phase of development and technological advancements has passed from the 1960s and is ongoing, where physical connections are linked through advanced networking protocols. The progression of technological advances, coupled with ease of access and widespread use of computers, gives the Internet the social impact that it enjoys. The expansion of physical connections continues and will expand and migrate in a more widespread way to portable devices, such as handheld personal digital assistants and cell phones.
Socialization and New Channels of Communication. Phase two of the widespread use and socialization of the Internet includes e-mail, instant messaging, forums/blogs, chats, and so forth. Online chat refers to any kind of communication over the Internet but is primarily meant to refer to direct one-on-one chatr or chatroom, using tools such as instant messaging. A group of regular users becomes a virtual community that exists around this Web space or use. Technology, computer games, and politics are some of the popular themes for forums. These forums can also be referred to as Web forums, message boards, discussion boards, discussion forums, discussion groups, and bulletin boards.
Additionally, the World Wide Web has seen a proliferation of individual self-publishing and cooperative publishing. The weblog, or blog; photo publishing; and wikis are examples of easy-to-create Web sites and publishing efforts. Whereas some blogs are information resources, others are more in the nature of online diaries. A blog may include text, pictures, and links to other Internet resources related to the topic.
Wikis are banks of information that invite interactive commentaries and information from a multiplicity of sources. Wikipedia, an interactive online encyclopedia, is such an example. Entries are posted and then modified over time according to standards and style guides, and through a communicative process. Information can be challenged, responded to, enhanced, and updated.
Information. Databases, libraries, wikis, statistics, election results, school data, and product guides are some examples of information that are now easily accessed through Internet Web sites. Information applications of the Internet are widespread in personal; business; and, to some extent, educational uses. As the Web has grown, search engines and Web directories have been created to track and allow viewers to look through billions of Web pages and find things easily and quickly. Information is searched by relevancy ranking, because looking through the entire list of results is not practical.
Commerce. Phase four involves commerce, or the marketing, selling, and buying of goods and services. These uses of the Internet are widespread and have had great impact on local businesses. Web pages can display services and products, order forms, and delivery options, enabling the buyer to purchase items from a multitude of locations. Lower prices and ease of online shopping have had an impact on local businesses, in the way that other national chains have affected local merchants. Businesses with an Internet front have a wider reach and scope, and now even local stores will have a Web page or means of Internet access. Banking, postal services, and resale or auction forums such as eBay are all part of the phenomenon of online shopping and business.
Gaming/Entertainment and Interactive Experience. Phase five involves gaming or entertainment, including gambling, interactive games, streaming radio, TV, and so on. Radio and TV listeners and viewers use their computer to access stations at great distance even as other applications are being used on the computer. Games such as Fantasy Football and others using multiuser applications are hugely popular. Additionally, people on different sides of the world speak to each other over the Internet using software such as Skype. As the technology advances, so will the applications and the global and social impact.
Implications for Education and Culture
The use of the Internet has implications for all aspects of modern life. These can be characterized by a democratization of information and information sharing; a connection among all people of the world, often called globalization; a heightened speed or pace in modern life; and, finally, a long-term impact on institutions, such as education and government.
Democratization of Information. Public access to government afforded by the Internet has had an impact on governance. The electorate may participate throughout the process in a more participatory and vocal way and may watch election returns in real time. The use of blogs by citizens of a community, state, or nation covers many topics, especially political and social commentary. Information flows from many directions, and not just through governmental, journalistic, or “authorized” sources. Nevertheless, standardization and control have become necessary for the system to function. Established schools of journalism have begun to research blogging, noting differences between journalism and blogs.
Globalization. A sense of a global connection or globalization exists among corporations, governments, and nonprofits, covering varied issues, news stories, and social activities. There is still, as with other media producers, a dominant voice created by media centers in developed countries. It is possible, though, to find out what occurs in remote areas and localities via information posted to the Web, creating a sense of social connectedness. Virtual communities allow for contact among youth from different geographic, social, economic, and racial backgrounds. This has a democratizing effect and gives the sense of a shrinking, connected world.
Speed or Pace of Life. The speed with which modern societies can access and send information and conduct business as varied as ordering books or buying stones for landscaping has entered every aspect of life. Multiprocessing or multitasking is commonplace. A viewer may read a news story and send instant messages to a colleague while simultaneously reading sports and stock quotations that scroll across the screen.
Implications for Institutions. The importance of the blogging community (and its relationship to the larger society) has gained importance at a rapid rate. The peer-to-peer responses and comments of bloggers have created a sense of participation that was not enjoyed before when information flow was dominated by formal journalism media or official government sources.
There are other, varied benefits and implications from the widespread use of computers and the Internet. The ability to communicate anonymously has allowed some participants to express themselves more openly in a virtual conversation than in person. Work experiences have changed for some employees who are able to work from home, or telecommute, because of connectivity to the home office. Universities offer online classes for students, and libraries at public schools head the digital age.
Although the freedom to work from home exists, a lack of freedom has also developed, with the ability of an employer or school to view communications and amounts of time on task, or engage in other forms of surveillance. A “coming of age” for youth can come more quickly than in the past with access to information that is not always controlled by parents. Additionally, chat rooms and online forums can be viewed by anyone, including future employers, or predators, as well as the intended friends and associates. Another detrimental effect of the Internet is the impact on copyright laws, because the information in text, print, video, or audio is easily obtained and shared. Protection of information producers has become an issue of inquiry and development.
Finally, a digital divide has developed between those who can afford computers and technology and have access to connectivity, and those who cannot. This applies to developing and developed countries alike, causing further economic inequalities and possibly thwarting social mobility. The Internet and its social effects are in their infancy. Time, imagination,Page 450 | Top of Articleand technological advances, especially in the area of video transmission and connectivity devices, will take the Internet to its next threshold.
See also Digital Divide ; Distance Learning ; Media Literacy ; Technologies in Education
Brown, J. S., & Duguid, P. (2002). Social life of information. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.
Burrows, R., Ellison, N., & Woods, B. (2005). Neighbourhoods on the Net: The nature and impact of Internet-based neighbourhood information systems. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.
Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3074500226