The Internet has caused somewhat of a revolution in society, allowing people from all over the world to communicate and express their ideas and feelings. The Internet has also changed the way society treats people and the balance of power.
In a real-life situation the majority of people would avoid speaking to a disfigured individual or a child even if they themselves were intellectual or occupied another high-ranking position in society. The Internet is the saviour of these people for it hides the simple traits of age, looks and class. The Internet can allow people to gain positions and gain friends that they would never otherwise have the chance to in real life. Many people have set up their own web design businesses, and claim on their web sites 'We offer these services...' but really it is just one person. Some of these people are very young, even under the age of 18.
For example, the maker of the popular online fantasy game Parallel Universe is only 19 years of age1 but he has managed to construct, on his own, a large online game with hundreds of users. He has managed to deal with servers, acquire banner ads, reply to hundreds of emails and fix bugs in his game all by himself. If he had gone to a software development company and was employed to work on a game; he would likely be shunted to a far less important job than core design and coding. This shows how the Internet can give someone a great deal of experience and social status (among players and coders who like his game).
On the BBC Television show Making a Genius a young boy was mentioned who acted like a boy of his age in conference and public, but when he communicated via email he came across intelligent and like an adult. Some adults were unimpressed by his intelligence and do not think it was actual intelligence because they had not spoken to him via email. This is another example of how the Internet can break the barriers of age and social class.
The Balance of Power
Society has also changed on the Net in the balance of power. The power members of society: celebrities, professional criminals, fashion setters, etc (all these people have been given their power through their titles) become much less powerful than they are in real life. The social group of advanced computer users, geeks, nerds, dweebs, hackers (they have many names) have a much larger power on the Internet because of their knowledge of its mechanics, and not just a position they have been given. The point about the balance of power change is not that the people who have 'authority by position' lose some of their power, but that anyone can get to that position via knowledge.
For example, in a recent survey of the best legal advice on the Web, a 15-year-old boy managed to come in the top 200, purely by virtue of the knowledge of the law he had acquired from watching and reading lots of crime fiction and television legal shows. This knowledge (combined with some common sense) then allowed him to know exactly how to advise people with serious legal problems.
New Internet users are walking into an area that has been dominated by this group since it was created, and their inexperience makes them targets for net crime and pranks. People who are considered cool in real life are easily made fun of on the Net, and far more damage can be done. Many social groups are picked on at school or other areas, but geeks have an equal footing from which to fight back once their enemies come on to the Internet.
From the number of television advertisements for Internet shopping sites today, we all know that shopping is becoming a strong enterprise on the Internet. By selling items over the Internet, companies can save money on employing shop assistants, buying shops and land, administration costs and a many other things. The advantage for us - the shoppers - is that the shops then sell their goods at lower prices and are able to buy many more of the 'embarrassing' items without being starred at in a busy shopping centre.
However, because it is cheaper to run Internet sites, and less staff are needed, the workforce suffers. If a company went into complete Net integration, hundreds of jobs would be lost because a small team of people can run an Internet site. Another bad factor is that people will not leave their homes to go out shopping, so they will not socialise in or around shops, get needed exercise, or help their local economy. Many shopping sites are international so their profits may not be going into your country's economy at all.
Working from Home
The workplace is becoming increasingly stressful for many people, with longer hours, polluted air in big cities, and so on. The Internet offers an alternative. Some businesses are starting to allow their employees to work at home for two to four days a week, sending their work in via e-mail or a direct connection to their company's Intranet2. Working from home has many advantages:
- You can take short breaks for snacks and relaxation
- You don't need to pay for childcare
- You save money on fuel by avoiding driving to work every day
- You can start when you like - early or late
However, this system only works for computer-oriented jobs and it can also result in people not doing the work at all and just staying at home and watching TV, and even increasing their stress by leaving work until the last minute.
Society is increasingly accepting of sexual material, and the Internet has increased that: it is saturated by domain names with a sexual nature, owned by pornography web sites that charge a small entry fee. These sites allow people to view pornographic material anonymously, without being called a pervert, or being embarrassed by purchasing sex magazines. Whether this will enhance people's sex lives and attitudes to sex, or make people only think about sex and result in more sex-related crime, is unknown at this stage. See pornography for more details.
Freedom of Speech
The Internet allows anyone who may not have the courage, or in whose locale it may not be acceptable, to reach out to others with their beliefs and ideas. This means that people who have a certain view can promote it without being worried about others laughing or holding prejudice against them: the Net provides places where they can find other people who agree with them. The only adverse effect is that beliefs that are illegal or socially unacceptable such as child pornography, neo-Nazism, racism, etc, can be broadcast through the Net with little or no censorship.
The Internet is here to stay, and it's really up to us how it affects society. It has allowed people from all over the world to express their ideas, communicate and have fun. It has allowed minority groups much more power than they have in real life. There are many changes to society because of the Internet; whether they enhance or ruin our life is up to us.