Is the Internet Changing Us by Stealth?

The internet is changing our behaviour and lives in ways that we do not yet fully recognise, according to respondents of a global survey by the Pew Research Center.

The survey, which was published in a report entitled “Digital Life in 2025” to commemorate 25 years of the internet, collated views about how we will be interacting with the internet in 11 years time.

Although there were many positive views about the impact of the internet, largely based around educational access, health awareness and political engagement, concerns were raised about the technology slowly dehumanising us.

“Our lives will be lived in a combination of virtual and physical spaces, and it will feel completely normal for most of us… The Internet is us and we are it,” said Paris School of Business senior lecturer in marketing and communications Elizabeth Albrycht in her survey response.

“There will not be any big ‘event’ of adoption — we’ll just naturally move there. Many of us are already close,” she added. “The benefits are too big, too obvious to think otherwise. These include the ability to stay alive longer as healthy people. Who would say no to that?”


“Our lives will be lived in a combination of virtual and physical spaces, and it will feel completely normal for most of us.”


One of the most universal opinions from respondents, both from those with positive and negative viewpoints, was how normal and enmeshed in everyday life the internet would become.

A database configuration specialist and risk assessment analyst who chose to remain anonymous summarised the mood: “By 2025 use of the Internet will be as routine as breathing. It will change from something you decide to use to something you simply use.”

This leads to concerns about the nature of privacy in a world where the internet dominates. As one scholar of online communications put it: ““We will be always connected, no matter where we are or what we’re doing: always reachable, never unavailable. What will happen to alone time? Solitude? Thought?”

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In particular there were many fears about a loss of skills as a direct result of increased humanity. One anonymous professor from Grand Valley State University said: “The internet is turning people into machines.”

A futurist and consultant who chose to remain nameless questioned the impact on people’s ability to think critically: “My fear is that people will become so reliant on the data on the Internet that they will be unable to judge the difference between good data or false, limited, possibly-slanted information. People may be surrendering their ability to think and judge.”

One Universidade Estadual Paulista doctoral student in information science took this further: “With everyone looking for the next gadget to consume, humanity will be in a state of global dumbness.”


“The internet is turning people into machines.”


It is possible that such fears are not without basis – humanity has experienced significant changes since the advent of the internet 25 years ago, and many of the biggest social effects, such as how we communicate with one another, have occurred without us considering their impact.

However, it is not entirely fair to say that we do not realise we are being changed – you only have to think back to your life before you got the internet to appreciate the impact it has had.

A rollable iPad could be closer than you think

Scientists have created the technology that will allow roll-up tablets, bendy mobile phones and digital paper to move out of sci-fi films and onto the high street.

Researchers at the University of Surrey, UK, have invented a simple circuit component that makes the rollable technology possible.

Potential uses for the technology – other than roll-up gadgets such as iPhones and iPads – include prediction sensors that can be used on buildings in regions at a high risk of natural disasters and ultra-thin smart plasters that can wirelessly monitor the health of the wearer.

The team worked with scientists from electronics company Philips to develop the Source-Gated-Transistor (SGT) that puts the electric current under control as it enters a semiconductor. This decreases the odds of the electronic circuit malfunctioning.

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Flexible technology isn’t exactly new; bendable mobile phones have been a much talked about concept for a while now and are already beginning to infiltrate the market with Samsung’s Galaxy Round coming out towards the end of last year.

However, devices that can be completely rolled-up may offer more alternatives and flexibility for users.

Large design documents and blueprints could be stored on digital displays and unravelled when being shown to clients, and the technology could pave the way for a new generation of wearable smartphones that are shaped to fit the wrist.

It could also lead offer some solutions for the dying printed newspaper industry by allowing readers to download copies onto a thin, paper-like sheet that they can roll-up and put into their back pocket.


“We could see the next generation of gadgets become mainstream much quicker than we thought”


Lead researcher of the project Dr Radu Sporea, from the University of Surrey, said the work could make manufacture of roll-up screens much cheaper,  while not making the design process any harder.

“These technologies involve thin plastic sheets of electronic circuits, similar to sheets of paper, but embedded with smart technologies.

“Until now, such technologies could only be produced reliably in small quantities, and that confined them to the research lab. However, with SGTs we have shown we can achieve some characteristics needed to make these technologies viable, without increasing the complexity or cost of the design.”

He added: “By making these incredible devices less complex and implicitly very affordable, we could see the next generation of gadgets become mainstream much quicker than we thought.”

The researchers had previously found that the SGT component could be applied to many electronic designs of an analog nature and also digital display screens. Their latest work shows that the SGTs can also be applied to next-generation digital circuits.

Professor Ravi Silva, a co-author of the work, said: “Whilst SGTs can be applied to mainstream materials such as silicon, used widely in the production of current consumer devices, it is the potential to apply them to new materials such graphene that makes this research so crucial.”


Featured image courtesy of RDECOM / Flickr under creative commons licence.