Submitted by acohill on Fri, 12/31/2004 - 08:30
The New York Times (reg. required) has an article summarizing a new study on the impact of the Internet on our lives. As past studies have found, TV is the big loser, with Internet users watching about 17% less television. That's probably not bad news.
The article goes on to say that the Internet is also causing us to sleep less (by 8.5 minutes) and that it reduces contact with family members by 23.5 minutes per day. The researchers acknowledged that they cannot answer the question of whether or not it strengthens or weakens social relationships. That's been a burning question since the rise of the Internet, and many tons of paper was wasted in the mid and late nineties to print handwringing articles about how the Internet would probably turn us all into introverted, pale-faced geeks sitting in our basements in the dark night after night, hanging out in seedy chat rooms.
None of that ever happened, but this study is likely to produce an echo effect of those hysterical articles, using the data that contact with family members is down.
The problem with these studies is I have yet to see one that really tries to find out the other side of the story. I may talk slightly less to my wife face to face, but we are emailing each other all day long. So if you really studied the entire social interaction, you'd probably find we communicate more now than we did ten years ago.
The article estimates that 75% of the country has Internet access now. Unfortunately, we still have some elected leaders in our communities that don't think any of this is important, because they are viewing it through the lens of their own (somewhat limited) experience, rather than trying to look at the community as a whole. When 75% of your constituents are using the Internet, it's not a fad or a luxury for the well off--it's a necessity of daily life. In rural communities, the Internet has broken the chains of rural isolation and dramatically improved the quality of life in areas like shopping. Living in a rural area no longer means long drives (or doing without) to obtain needed items--a couple of clicks online and the products are delivered to your door, or even via broadband, if you don't live near a well-stocked music store, as just one example.
1995 was the year the Internet really took off. Ten years later, we've gone from a tiny number of people who had Internet access back then to 75% of the country--that's the fastest diffusion of a new technology ever. We're on to something here, and I believe it's mostly for the good. We're more aware of world events, better informed on local, national, and international issues, have more control over our time, and have all kinds of new business and work opportunities available to us.
Just one example: despite the sheer awfulness of the tsunami, we all know about it in a way that we never could have even five years ago, to say nothing of ten or twenty years ago. Is the knowing a good thing? Well, charitable giving, propelled by hundreds and thousands of Web sites helping to organize aid, will likely break every fundraising record in the world.
In the face of horrible suffering and pain, the Internet gives us an opportunity to demonstrate our basic humanity and caring for others--an opportunity to rise above our own needs, to rise above political, social, economic, and language differences--and we are doing so.
Happy New Year--all my best for a prosperous and healthy 2005.
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