The Internet changed the world far more extensively than it could have been imagined twenty-five years ago. Everything from commerce to self-identity became more fluid and amorphous. In The Internet and Social Change (2001), Surratt notes that Anderson’s concept of the constructed self applies quite strongly in the post-modern world. Log onto MySpace, Facebook, or any of the numerous social sites online and one can literally become anyone from manufacturing academic credentials to appropriating photographs from attractive friends.
It is undeniable that online socialisation benefits individuals by allowing them to make friends with people around the world. Finding similarities between oneself and someone of another culture allows ISP patrons to empathize with others, rather than viewing them as alien. With the advent of globalisation, national and cultural identities are beginning to erode as different cultures blend together for profit. In the modern world, the concept of the self was rather static. An individual had a fixed identity that remained the same, wherever he went.
While it might have served society well at the time, many anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists and literary figures have pushed forth the idea that the self is constructed, deconstructed, and re-constructed when the people and cultural values surrounding the self change. “The information/communication revolution creates a vast and mysterious electronic landscape of new relationships, roles, identities, networks, and communities, while it undermines that cherished luxury of the modern self—privacy.
The globalization of economics and politics sends people scurrying about the planet; pulling up roots; trampling boundaries; letting go of old certainties of place, nationality, social role and class” (p. 209). . The most notable change with the rise of the Internet is the way corporations do business. For most of the twentieth century, businesses had to advertise in newspapers, on television, or on the radio. Consumers had to patronise a brick and mortar establishment or order by mail or over the phone. Today, it is easy to purchase just about anything with a few points and clicks.
In the early days of the Internet, companies with websites had a distinct advantage over the competition. Today, it is considered bad business to not have a website. Some commentators are looking at this shift as a revolution as significant as industrialisation two centuries ago. Warschauer makes note of this phenomenon in Electronic Literacies (1998). “Whereas the first industrial revolution was based on the harnessing of steam power, the newest industrial revolution is based on the harnessing of information, knowledge, and networks.
This information-based revolution, which began in the post-war period and is accelerating today, is viewed by many as bringing about a new post-modern world based on radically different production methods and accompanying changes in lifestyle”(p. 9). In 2004, Edwards acknowledged that the development of the Internet was structured so that all the knowledge and power was not centralized in one location. As increasing numbers of people connected, there was more access to information than ever before.
The Internet explosion of the late 1980s would not have happened without a development entirely unrelated to the ARPANET, namely the spread of personal computers through the business world. Desktop PCs were initially adopted piecemeal by individuals and departments rather than by central corporate decisions. The effect of this pattern was to decentralize data (and therefore power) within corporations” (p. 220). One might argue that there is an over-saturation of information.
Look for sources on any subject and a search engine might turn up several thousand documents. Arguably, it is more difficult than ever to keep up with events because they are all pouring into News outlets around the world as soon as they happen. In the modern era and before, only a few newsworthy events would capture the national imagination every year. Today, there are at least 100 different subjects people could be discussing at any particular time. As in the business world, the religious sphere has always been quick to adapt to any new form of communication.
Hoover & Clark (2002) discuss the ideological battles between the faithful and the secular humanist factions from the nineteenth century until the present day. Each side now has access to a wider audience and both are taking maximum advantage of their worldwide audience. For example, the Saddleback Church, most famous for its author of The Purpose Driven Life, offers sermons online for its enormous congregation. However, many agnostics and atheists in mainstream society feel marginalised because the vast majority of people hold some type of religious conviction.
In the US and the UK, most people believe in one of the many varieties of Christianity—which stipulates that all unbelievers are going to spend eternity in a lake of fire and brimstone. This can hardly encourage friendly relations between the groups. Luckily, each group has a large potential social network to find connections. Also, those that do not subscribe to the atheist/monotheist dichotomy can find information on Wicca, Buddhism, or Scientology; hence, finding a system of beliefs that best approximates each individual’s worldview is easily found.
Unlike the religious practitioners of previous generations, who in the main saw social and cultural change as occurring inevitably for the worse, the devotees of contemporary Christianity are actively exploring uses of such new media as film, television, video, and the Internet in conducting religious services and as a tool for evangelism. A very important function of atheist and freethinking Internet sources, is an important antidote to feelings of isolation or anger that holding such opinions can engender”(p. 280-1).
One attribute characterising twenty-first century religion is the growing popularity of New Age and alternative religions and the abandonment of traditional organized religion, as obscure traditions reach a larger audience. Education is also going online. Because many working professionals lack the time to attend a brick & mortar institution, enrolment in Online Universities has expanded, as did the popularity of home schooling children. Now people are earning post-secondary degrees and even take graduate-level courses online.
In the UK, government is encouraging online education as a way to encourage the majority to first have valuable post-secondary experience and learn high-tech skills that are valued in today’ marketplace, especially with the prevalence of transferring jobs to developing countries. However, some are worried that the switch to online education will exclude those without access to the Internet, “The development of online services and the trend toward the ‘information society’ will leave groups without access to the Internet even further excluded from the ability to exercise democratic rights and claim the full benefits of that society.
Clearly, if the Internet has potential to increase democracy, then it must enable socially excluded groups to access society’s benefits to a much fairer level. In particular, it must allow them to access education as the key to the other benefits”(Carr-Chellman, 2005, pp. 92-93). The price of education has gone up so much, that it is untenable for the poor and lower middle-class. There was one case of a girl deciding to sell her virginity to the highest bidder in order to avoid the comparative poverty that afflicts those with massive student-loan debt.
According to the BBC, “the student currently works lengthy hours to pay for tuition fees and living accommodation in Bristol. ” As social identities become more fluid, so does crime, as it goes high-tech. This goes to show that times have not changed much, only the methods by which to employ them. Dot. Cons (2002) explain the high-tech applications of crime, especially identity theft, prostitution, cyber-stalking, and the sale of brides and babies. “The Internet positions women, children, and potential children (as in eggs and sperm) as consumer items; that is, products to be purchased.
However, trade in brides is itself hardly new. Historical evidence points to the fact that one solution proffered for the supposed ‘surplus’ of women in Britain detailed by the 1851 census was migration to become the wives of men in the British colonies often via proxy ceremonies”(Jewkes, pp. 68, 71). Also, identity theft has become much easier with the appropriation and alteration of personal records. “The ability of the thief to purchase goods and services from innumerable e-merchants expands the potential harm to the victim through numerous purchases.
The explosion of financial services offered online, such as mortgages, credit cards, bank accounts, and loans provides a sense of anonymity to those potential identity thieves who would not risk committing identity theft in a face-to-face interaction” (Hammond & Hammond, 2003, p. 59). Two of the most salient issues facing many Internet users are: the problem of free speech and the right to privacy.
With extensive databases and sophisticated tracking systems, governments are better able to keep their people “in line. In totalitarian governments, critiques of the government are punished quite harshly; however, Internet commentaries are difficult to trace and punish—especially on a nationwide scale. Evading punishment is even easier if computer terminals are used. In Free Expression in the Age of the Internet (2000), Harris brings our attention to potential regulations enacted by the government, and the mass media’s growing hostility toward privacy rights (i. e. the relentless stalking of famous people). Rather than providing new forms of media, the Internet simply offers an expansion of the old.
In the past fifteen years, Internet technology has acted as a powerful social force, with bloggers stating what most news outlets fear to print. “Because the Internet blurs the distinction between an interpersonal and a broadcast communications network, it blurs the distinction between private and public speech. Authoritarian nations’ restrictive regulations are designed to prevent speech deemed contrary to national security focus on mobilization appeals and incitement to riot concepts of public speech.
A rabble-rouser on a street corner is, by definition, easier to locate and expurgate than, say, a thoughtful but anonymous critic at a computer terminal. In such a post-modern world, there is the potential that a critical and sophisticated public audience will re-emerge as the traditional mass media are bypassed” (p. 229). The emergence of the Internet even alters the way people interact with one another. Rather than having a drink with co-workers at the local pub or taking classes together, you chat them up online via e-mail, social networking sites, etc.
With a growing population of Internet addicts, face-to-face interaction has experienced a decline. Many even prefer to text-message a friend rather than speak to him on the phone. Sometimes, friends will socialise by going to their separate computers and playing interactive games such as World of Warcraft and Everquest. In a 2005 interview of Professor Norman Nie of the Stanford Institute for the Quantitative Study of Society, Kenneth Dixon records the professor’s comments on the increasing social isolation inherent in post-modern life.
The web is but the latest in a long list of technological developments that have improved quality of life but restricted social interactions. It’s a history that began with the Industrial Revolution, when the male started to leave the house to earn a living and was not teaching his son how to carry on his craft. The world is more connected than ever before, but people spend less time in person with those they care about. With regards to social interactions, quantity has replaced quality. ” This profound drawback of the Internet Age will be the social issue scholars might ttackle in the twenty-first century and beyond.