One of the joys of continuing my education is
having getting to write a mini-article once a week for my fellow students and instructors. I’ve decided to share some of the better ones here. B.
As someone who has been a “netizen” for longer than I like to admit anymore, I’ve had a front row seat while the Internet has impacted our world and our culture. Some of the changes have been positive, but not all, not by a long shot.
On the plus side, social media makes it possible to get word out to lots of people when there is an emergency. An article in Scientific American in 2013 compared how the social media response to crises evolved between 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and 2012 when Hurricane Sandy landed on the eastern seaboard. The differences were significant, owing greatly to the use of social media channels like Twitter and Facebook to stay informed, locate loved ones, notify authorities, and express support (Maron, 2013). More recently, the social media response (reaction?) to the COVID-19 global pandemic has proven to be extremely effective at spreading information and disinformation, in nearly equal measure (Volkin, 2020).
COVID-19 also led to a dramatic surge in Internet use, with figures in March 2020 showing a 70% overall increase (Beech, 2020). A significant part of that increase was caused by people shifting to a work-from-home model whenever possible (Deorah, 2020), although Netflix and online gaming have seen record surges in their popularity and use (“Netflix doubles expected tally of new subscribers amid COVID-19 lockdown,” 2020) (Taylor, 2020).
On the negative side, social media is killing face-to-face social interaction, and recent studies show that it also increases feelings of loneliness, especially among female, lower socioeconomic status, and Black/Hispanic adolescents.
“The research reviewed … on the social life of over 8 million young Americans, found increases in loneliness over time, and negative changes in a variety of in-person social activities—changes that coincided with the increase in digital media usage.”(Emamzadeh, 2019)
Increased loneliness isn’t the only downside to increased Internet use, either. The rampant spread of disinformation, online scams, and fraud in response to emergencies is higher than ever before, thanks to the Internet (Volkin, 2020). And even if you do manage to avoid being duped by disinformation, the challenges posed by information overload remain (Krol, 2019).
The bottom line is that the Internet is a tool that has dramatically altered how we interact with each other, both as individuals and as a society. The challenge going forward is for us to use the tool rather than have the tool use us.
Beech, M. (2020, March 26). COVID-19 pushes up internet use 70% and streaming more than 12%, first figures reveal. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/markbeech/2020/03/25/covid-19-pushes-up-internet-use-70-streaming-more-than-12-first-figures-reveal/
Deorah, S. (2020, 4). COVID-19 impact: Is work from home the new normal? The Financial Express. https://www.financialexpress.com/lifestyle/covid-19-impact-is-work-from-home-the-new-normal/1981037/
Emamzadeh, E. (2019, August 22). Loneliness and media usage: A study of 8 million Americans. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/finding-new-home/201908/loneliness-and-media-usage-study-8-million-americans
Krol, K. (2019, August 6). How to stop information overload and get more done. Lifehack. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/how-to-fight-information-overload.html
Maron, D. F. (2013, June 7). How social media is changing disaster response. Scientific American. https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-social-media-is-changing-disaster-response/
Netflix doubles expected tally of new subscribers amid COVID-19 lockdown. (2020, April 21). The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/media/2020/apr/21/netflix-new-subscribers-covid-19-lockdown
Taylor, H. (2020, March 18). Gaming and live streaming rise globally amid COVID-19 crisis. GamesIndustry.biz. https://www.gamesindustry.biz/articles/2020-03-18-gaming-and-live-streaming-rise-globally-amid-covid-19-crisis
Volkin, S. (2020, March 27). Social media fuels spread of COVID-19 information—and misinformation. The Hub. https://hub.jhu.edu/2020/03/27/mark-dredze-social-media-misinformation/