Clarification of Answer by
21 Feb 2003 02:19 PST
Thanks for the comments, and please let me elaborate more specifically
on the points brought up by you.
What will happen if a child -- a whole generation -- grows up with
unrestricted access to the Internet?
---- 1. People will be more inclined to speak up, be less respectful
Online, it's very easy to give feedback. At times, the discussion
forum is right on the site (often even directly connected to the
article). If it's not one will practically always find a feedback
form. Or an email that goes off directly to the author of an article
-- within the same minute one finished reading it. Even if there's
absolutely no way to give feedback, there's still the option to join
an online discussion group or chat room and discuss things with
others. You will find people in the newsgroup or chat 24 hours a day.
You can even give your opinion anonymously without care for negative
feedback directed at your own person.
Now compare this to a book, the TV, a magazine, or a daily newspaper;
these traditional media are pushing the content in one direction and
are less interactive. One is forced to very much accept things just
the way they are, without means to change them. And as opposed to a
website, even if one writes back with criticism using traditional
mail, it might take a month or more before the letter is printed
(while the chances of it being printed are low to begin with). And the
correction will never make it back into the original article; whoever
has the information already stacked in his book case will never get to
Already, the Internet is the basic interactive media to be used in
addition to other media. People discuss movies, news, TV, and other.
Somebody might just have seen a movie, and then log on to the 'net to
find out more about the director, voice his opinion about the ending,
talk to others who reviewed it, find out spoofs and plot holes, get
background information, chat about it with others.
In short, people who will grow up with this form of bidirectional
communication on a decentralized network will be more inclined to
"talk back" to information presented; to question media authority, be
suspicious about validity of content, and in general take it for
granted their voice is heard immediately, loud and clear.
---- 2. People will have shorter attention spans
It takes a long passive reading session to go through a book from
start to end. The form of communication of author to reader is that of
one-to-many, and the communication only flows in one direction. There
is no chance to directly speak back, and the information presented is
not in "inverted pyramid" style (making important points first), nor
are there small chunks of information optimized to be grasped quickly
However, such is mostly expected from the Internet. We all heard about
how people online scan through content; skip passages; click hastily
on the next link; open multiple windows; ignore areas (like the
phenomenon of being blind to anything that resembles advertisement on
the screen); click away pop-ups; check their email while going through
a news story.
In a book, you can flip back and forth. You can skip paragraphs. And
on TV, you can zap to the next station. But still, those media are not
as dynamic, and they most often require longer attention spans. People
growing up with the Internet right now will very likely be much better
at scanning information to find crucial bits, but it may be a greater
hurdle for them to actually sit down and read the same continuous line
of thought being developed over a period of hours, or even days. But
let's not forget some arguments do need a lot of initiation,
preparation; not every information is easily communicated.
---- 3. People will be less afraid of new things, strangers
If you're online and reading articles, chatting, participating in
newsgroups and mailing lists, you're exposed to a whole variety of
distinct views of different people. Those people might be located in
another corner of the world, embedded in a wildly dissimilar cultural
context -- and are likely to have a radically different perspective on
the state of things.
In the age of digital information, nobody is alone in his special
interest. And everybody can share it. Every niche is explored. We can
see how taste and opinion differ around the world. This might be
something as innocent as a recipe book from someone living in China,
read by someone living in Finland. It might also be a radical
political or religious view. Everybody will get used to digital
citizens voicing their identity.
People will learn to appreciate new things; to accept tastes and
opinions which were unlike their own; embracing change more openly.
---- 4. People will feel more like integral part of a global community
The digital society is not for all. But worldwide, people are
communicating online. A globally organized peace movement is not a
thing of the future. Political parties can connect, and share
information everywhere. Interest groups can meet up, ignoring physical
distances. People will -- already do -- feel that this planet is not
that big after all and that we're on it together, and that therefore
we must work to bring it to a better future, together.
---- 5. People will put less emphasis on face-to-face communication,
touch, smell, voice
I don't think the Internet is anti-social. In fact, it is very social;
people chat and discuss all day. You meet so many people, and often
speak on a level much more close to your heart. Free of direct social
responsibility, peer pressure, authority, political correctness, free
of any need whatsoever to masquerade.
This being said, the communication is also heavily based on text. You
write, you read. There are web cams, and voice technology, but for the
most part online it's still just that; you read, and you write. What
about meeting other persons face-to-face? To touch their hands, to
smell, to hear the voice. These senses are losing importance in the
digital age. It is my believe new technology will bring those
sensations back and into the online world, but for the time being they
are largely lacking.
---- 6. People will accept computer-illiterates less and less
Right now it's still not a big deal if one never heard of a search
engine, a newsgroup, or if one doesn't really know what constitutes a
chat room. People who may be able to use their Personal Computer for
word processing might just have started to use email. But things are
changing. Anybody growing up in the digital era will not have much
arguments in the future for having steered clear of the online world.
Everybody will put emphasis on this knowledge, and those who do not
understand this world will have greater problems getting around urban
This might cause a gap between countries which are highly connected,
and those which are not. Information wants to be free; but it also
relies on technology that costs money in setting up and maintenance.
Bridging the Digital Divide - A Vision to a Digital Inclusive Society
(by Sin Chung Kai, June 2001)
---- 7. People will adopt a variety of identities
On the Internet, you can be anyone you want. This is true for
chatting, posting in a bulletin board, creating your own website.
Nobody hears your voice or sees your face. You can also adopt
different identities in different contexts. You might be a nobody in
one place, lurking around, waiting for others to speak. While in yet
another place, you might have authority. These locations might
co-exist on your computer in the same time frame in different windows.
The cyber identity is a dynamic one and can be molded to one's liking.
This level of diversity might carry on into other places of social
I can see two possible effects; some will switch their persona often
and drastically, while others will even more try to stick to what they
would consider their "true self" in order to survive through the
chaos. Some will lie, and some will hide. Others will speak the truth,
and openly so.
Some people will take the chance to truly become free thinkers, while
others get sucked into the information chaos without forming a true,
meaningful perspective; not afraid of authority, but suspicious about
content; versatile in a variety of different topics, but less true
expertise in a single one; easily grasping new things, and easy to let
go old things; learning fast and forgetting fast; reluctant to one-way
communication or a state of prolonged passiveness; eager to express
and participate; to change and mold, others and themselves, to
constantly teach and learn; to communicate constantly and rapidly, and
be part of the dynamic flow of the global community.
I hope this helps!
Computer-Mediated Communication and Community (by Steve Jones)
"internet transforms society"
"digital age" society