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?”
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.