As with any new technology, everyone is always talking about the negative side effects of the internet and saying how it ruins real face to face relationship, fills our minds with filth and damages our eyes and melts our brains. As usual it’s the panic mongers whose voices are most heard in the media and it’s gotten to such a point that people begin to feel guilty when they boot up their computer. The same things were said about rock music when records were at their most popular, and about televisions when they were first invented. The fact of the matter remains however that we still use both music players and televisions and that the internet isn’t going anywhere either. The reason for this is that although all these things do have a few downsides (like anything), they also have a plethora of upsides. The positive effects of internet use far outweigh the negatives, whether you’re a child, a pensioner or a business man and to say otherwise is not only small minded but destructive.
Before we get onto the positive effects of internet use, let’s start with these much touted negative side effects. The naysayers would have us believe that the internet prevents us from interacting on a face to face basis and destroys old fashioned pursuits of writing letters and speaking on the phone; people even meet their spouses online these days! With business and finance now handled online we’re also far too dependent on the internet and would be at a loss should it break down. With the internet in our pocket we’re now never ‘disconnected’ and are at our boss’ beck and call 24 hours a day. Our bank cards are also more susceptible than ever to fraud and theft… And through all this we’re getting addicting and neglecting our real relationships, stuck inside in a more and more hermit like existence. They also say that sitting in front of a computer prevents us from getting outside and basking in fresh air and instead gives us repetitive strain injuries, hunched over spines and square eyes. As though this wasn’t enough, when we are sat inside on the computer we’re mostly looking at filth as that’s what the internet is comprised of – and having so much temptation and porn at our finger tips can only be a bad thing. The temptation isn’t limited to porn though – we’re also surrounded by bad investments and all-to-easy online shops not to mention gambling sites. And it’s not just ourselves we affect online – we also damage industries by downloading free books and music and downloading pirated movies. The internet provides a hiding place for all the perverts and weirdoes to meet online and to talk about completely irresponsible and antisocial subjects in a way that they could never get away with online. Adverts for penis enlargement, Viagra and Bestiality pop up every two minutes and find their way into our inboxes. Never mind the positive effects of internet use; all this is something you’re willing to expose your children to?
The truth of the matter though is that all these things are simply symptoms of our own psyche as a race and if you look at them slightly differently you’ll see that many of these ‘downsides’ actually represent progress and the positive effects of internet use.
Firstly, the accusation that the internet ruins ‘real life’ relationships is a bit of a misnomer and perhaps what people are forgetting here is that those people at the other ends of e-mails and on social networking sites actually are ‘real life’ people too. In the case of sites such as Facebook and others then, you’re actually more in contact with people than you would be otherwise and in fact need never lose contact with anyone ever again. Romantic relationships also benefit from the internet and if you ask any long-distance couple they’ll very easily be able to reel you off some positive effects of internet use as it allows them to talk every night without wracking up a ridiculously long phone bill on Skype or MSN, and how it even allows them to see each other on the webcam. And for those who actually meet online… so what? For those who lack the social skills or the opportunity to meet people in more traditional ways (and what’s so elegant about snogging someone drunkenly in a club anyway?), it can be a great way to meet someone that they might not otherwise. Taking away the ‘physical’ element to begin with may even make the relationship less shallow and get both parties to visit new and exotic locations.
There are also positive effects of internet usage in business. While it’s true that office workers are now spending less and less time ‘relaxing’ with no internet connection and so no capacity to work; it also means that they have to take fewer trips into the office and means that some people can now work entirely from home and set up their own businesses. And by ‘working from home’ what we really mean, again thanks to the internet, is working from anywhere – while travelling, in a pub or while chilling in the hot tub. It also means fewer business trips abroad when people can make video conferences far more easily which means more time with the family and less damage to the environment. Who’d have thought being eco-friendly would be one of the positive effects of internet use? While many technologies have taken jobs away from the public, the internet has opened up a wealth of opportunities and heralded an age where anyone can be published and anyone can be an entrepreneur. Even if you only sell a few old items on e-bay; anyone can make money online.
With the ‘One Child One Laptop’ scheme that’s heading to Africa, and the large-scale attempts to provide the continent with a secure internet connection this could see one of the largest continents joining us online to share their views and earn themselves some money. This will give them access to all the education they could need as well as the resources they’d need to make the most of that. Many of them could see themselves working their way out of poverty – and online they can expect the same wages as other continents as its faceless nature eradicates discrimination. One of the positive effects of internet use then is that it could help some people in escaping from the poverty trap.
And yes more of our personal information is now available online and to an extent that does leave us vulnerable. At the same time however, bank robberies are a thing of the past and most of us no longer carry more than £20 on us at a time. If we are careful and follow the guidelines advised by the banks and online businesses, then our data should be safer than it was before – it’s shredding the hard copies you need to be careful of.
And the internet is full of filth. Well okay that’s quite true, but to be fair that’s not all it’s filled with either. Apart from anything else the internet is filled with knowledge and information. If you’re friend or your child started spending lots of time in the library you’d be impressed right? Well the internet is essentially the largest library of all, and even if you don’t aim to use it for learning purposes it’s pretty hard to go online without learning something. The news for instance is flashed on most search engines and e-mail providers’ home pages and it’s far to tempting not to use Wikipedia as a means to settle debates and disagreements. Wikipedia and other sites in general in fact provide almost everything you could ever need to know right at your finger tips.
Furthermore, simply interacting with people from other cultures is bound to help make you more cultured and worldly. Just getting to see other people’s points of view on forums and in chat rooms (and sharing their point of view is something people are only too pleased to do online, just check out YouTube for proof) will make you more open minded and a more reasoned critic. Improve your knowledge and informing your points of view are two of the most important positive effects of internet use.
As for all that temptation… Well the amount of porn on the internet really only reflects how sex-obsessed we are as a culture and blaming the internet isn’t going to achieve anything. If someone really wants to access porn they’ll find a way, and surely it’s better that they vent their sexual frustration in a safe environment and for free? And anyway, masturbation in itself is completely natural and not unhealthy so there’s not really anything to be worried about. Sure there’s some rather extreme stuff on there, but that will always exist internet or no, and if you want to prevent you kids from seeing it you just need to set up a filter. And as for those ‘all too easy’ online shops, most of them provide significant discounts on their items meaning that you can afford to be a bit more materialistic. In doing so you’re also putting money back into the economy, so again what many people view as a bad thing is actually one of the positive effects of internet use.
Destroying industry and providing a place for these deviant ‘subcultures’ to converse? Those too are perhaps the most positive effects of internet use. These are the things that promise to change the way politics and business work forever and potentially usher in a new age of supreme democracy and resources. Granted, there are some sub groups online that we’d probably rather there weren’t, but at least if they’re online they can talk to each other and leave us alone. Other ‘subcultures’ however simply reflect different ways of thinking – and the internet gives them an open forum to freely express themselves, something that everyone has a right to do.
The anonymity and freedom that the internet gives us can also be a good thing as well as bad. On the one hand it does allow people to get away with things they would otherwise, and to lie about their identity. On the other hand however it also further oils the cogs of democracy by giving people an opportunity to speak freely without fear of retribution and gives everyone a voice. It also gives people the opportunity to ‘try out’ different personas and shed their social anxiety which can be a liberating experience. On the internet racism is also impossible when anonymity is observed – it is a place where people are judged only on the quality of their contributions.
This expression then gives a voice to those who wouldn’t be heard otherwise, and petitioning can take part on a global level where people are united by cause rather than geographical location. Soon governments may take advantage of this open forum and start listening more closely; an age may exist where we all get a say on every decision that affects us, where we act as ‘one mind’ in decisions that affect the general public, but as completely autonomous and free individuals the rest of the time.
And as for the free exchange of movies, books and CDs – well many companies and artists have found that by freely distributing their material they actually make much more money by generating a larger following. Information is a resource that will never run dry and so to charge for it could be seen as immoral. Particularly as the internet allows all of us to create and market our own work. In time then, most things will be free and money will mostly be made via advertising sponsorship. So in conclusion, the positive effects of internet use have only just begun, and if we continue as we are and ignore the pessimistic doom-mongers then it won’t be long before we’ve heralded in a new age where true democracy and the free flow of information and art are commonplace. With this in mind, who really cares if it’s full of porn?