Pros and Cons of the Internet

Pros and Cons of the Internet.

     Pros of the internet are fairly well known and reported. Good information and quality content are in abundance on the web; all types of communication have been expanded and in many ways improved. The internet helps society by allowing us to order shoes that are not available in stores and have them shipped directly to any location faster than we could have even driven to the store, and to instantly send words of encouragement to our friends and family. This helps everyone but especially physically handicapped people and people with transportation challenges, and it saves people time and money.

The communications effects are similar to what happened when the printing press started cranking out pamphlets over five hundred years ago. Information that previously would not have reached end users became available to them, as it traveled greater distances and disseminated widely, it also traveled at a faster rate. Nowadays something that would probably never have received any exposure can “go viral” so fast that it becomes a problem for the concerned parties because they do not have time to prepare for the exposure. One interesting example of how even minor news items are broadcast I like to refer to is the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier story:

The effects of new things are often a double edged sword. Computers transformed the whole jobs landscape in terms of what jobs were available, and the internet has transformed the jobs landscape in terms of where jobs are available. Demand for something must fall as a result of this shift in locations. The winners were people who were able to take advantage of the shift in locations, and wherever demand fell, the losers (like the United States Postal Service for instance) lost money, or prestige, or both. Today the USPS declared its surrender-to-decline by cutting the delivery time of First Class mail, lowering the standard that it set forty years ago.

As for data, bad and “illegal” types of content are also in abundance on the web, not just good stuff. Artists suffer from loss of copyright; advertising has another outlet; at the extreme in of the scale we find content that clearly hurts society, such as increased propaganda and purposeful misinformation. People tend to give credibility to almost all forms of printed information, but bad content on the internet can serve to expedite narrow mindedness. If a person simply goes out looking for what they want with a predetermined conclusion in mind, they can usually find it without having to look too hard. People can quickly locate sources for “facts” to support their opinion or position on any particular subject.

One particular con of the internet currently receiving much attention is the way that personal privacy can be invaded. In fact, people may not actually have much in the way of real privacy these days, not necessarily because of the internet, but the web does enhance your exposure if you use it without thinking about privacy. Earlier this week when I was in the middle of writing this piece, I read (on the internet) that Facebook was compelled by the Federal Trade Commission to do something about their privacy settings. That story totally supported the claim I was already making, and I didn’t even have to go looking for it, it just came to me automatically from a feed aggregator that I use.

In a few days my weekly news magazine will come to my mailbox via the USPS truck. I expect I will open the magazine and find a paper version of an article on that Facebook story. As far as I know, the USPS does not track what they put in my mailbox, so I guess reading my own paper magazine in the privacy of my own home is still an anonymous affair. Please do not suggest to the government that the USPS could track what I read and sell that information to advertisers, to regain some of the losses from the shift in demand away from their service.


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