It has been about 20 years since the Internet came to life. For better or worse, the internet has brought about permanent changes to society. Here is a look at some of them.
Online shopping is really a different form of catalog shopping, which has always been with us. But, unless you were located in a rural area, ordering specialty items or were housebound, most of us went shopping at retail outlets, lugging our stuff home in the car. Now, so much shopping is done online that many retail stores have gone out of business or are on the verge of bankruptcy. Although this industry was buoyed by the fact many purchasers did not pay sales tax, and had to pay shipping costs, this has not slowed down this industry. In fact, companies such as Amazon are now offering next day or same day shipping. If a customer sees a product and buys the product, the product can be in his hands the day. The market research firm comScore noted that Americans spent 42.75 billion dollars online during the 2013 Christmas season, 10% up from 2012. However, comScore made the point this increase of 10% was very disappointing, although comSource did not explain why.
When discussing the internet, the effects of social media must be considered. Video phones are no longer things of the future. They can happen through your mobile phone or on your laptop. Many businesses use these systems for meetings, saving on travel expenses. It is quite easy to talk to people in a foreign country these days, making it easy for companies to expand into other countries. Part of the social media system is also responsible for the almost instant video and reporting on events all over the world. A fire or war can really happen in your living room, live. And, a television set is no longer necessary to watch television shows or sports in the home. Your laptop or computer device can show these media events just fine. Social media have replaced meeting for coffee in many cases. On the other hand, it allows people with like interests to interact from all over the world. There have been cases where users of social media have been abused and attacked by their contacts on the web. Some have committed suicide as a result of these attacks. Physicians have adopted video phones to talk to and examine patients in isolated areas of the world, thus saving lives. Social media also put all types of pornography, legal and not, at the fingertips of any of us. If you are connected to the internet, access is there. It has become clear the internet most likely needs some type of control on users and content. Just what this should be is still open to question.
The internet is not private. Regardless of the precautions one takes, everything sent over the internet is public. Too many of us think that it is. Even files that were deleted can be traced and found. This means that yes, anyone with the right algorithms can and has been able to steal your financial and personal data. This can be hindered a bit, but it is out there and there is no turning back. You can lose access to your money and good name by simply making a purchase at the grocery store. And, truthfully, there is no solution to these problems. Of course, internet security experts, often those that have broken security in the past, try to keep on top of these things. But, with the ability to operate these schemes from a keyboard anywhere in the world, it is becoming harder and harder. All we can do is to try to keep our exposure to a minimum and be careful where we shop, where we use our mobile devices, and keep close watch on our accounts. This is one of the penalties for having internet access.
The internet has created an industry in and of itself. Workers are needed to maintain the internet, set up connections and write new applications for customers to use. However, the internet has also resulted in the end or decease in many areas of industry. Business travel is down, affecting the travel industry. Travel agents are becoming a dying breed as customers make their own arrangements on line. Many persons prepare their own legal documents online, thus saving the cost of lawyers, paralegals and other legal fees that goes straight to the pocket of law firms and their exorbitant salaries. Homes can be sold this way as well, leaving out the real estate agent. Service industries are becoming the past, rather than the future. Many business machines are a thing of the past, as well. Does anyone sell typewriters anymore? This changeover is not yet complete, but we can already see where the internet is leading.
Overall, as a society, our time on the internet is going up. The internet is filling up our days, leaving less time for something else. A new NBER working paper from the Technology Policy Institute’s Scott Wallsten shows these changes. Americans use the internet for leisure at about a rate of 100 minutes per day on average. This means that each additional minute of time spent online is correlated with 0.27 fewer minutes working; 0.28 fewer minutes spent on other leisure activities, mostly watching television; 0.12 fewer minutes sleeping; and 0.05 fewer minutes socializing with others. Of the age groups that use the internet, the youngest ages use it the most. Wallsten also found a drop in the time spent on education for those who used the internet the most and a decrease in socializing in person.