For many centuries people have been studying the effects of technological change in a society. The beginning of twentieth century was marked with rapid technological changes and therefore also with rapid changes in the civil society and social capital. As communication and information technology started to take hold, means of communication changed and instead of being connected via letters which would sometimes take months to reach its final destination, telegraph and telephone, which was not accessible for everyone; people started using internet as means of communication.
The beginning of this century is also marked with the loss of a sense of community which people had earlier. This is due to the advent of the internet which has fostered the growth of virtual communicates and has changed the entire concept of civil society. (Schatzie, 2009). The main aim of this paper is to discuss how internet has shaped modern civil society and how programs like Facebook, twitter, and MySpace have changed the idea of civil society and social capital. Moreover, the paper also discusses whether it is a bad or good element for society to be connected this way and how the internet has changed the way people communicate.
This research is quite important due to the fact that the rapid expansion of information and communication technology has practically engulfed the entire world. As the use of information and communication technology is increasing it has had a tremendous impact on people and their relationships. Therefore, there was a need to study these effects and the changes brought in the civil society and social capital by the advent and use of internet. The internet boom It can be noted through many historical examples that the technology in a country plays a very critical role in reshaping the way people live.
Their way of living, types of businesses and the way these businesses are conducted are all dependent on the technological advancements the country makes. The boom in information and communication technologies, particularly internet, has made vast differences in many countries. These changes started from the western societies and are now coming in other areas of the world. It took almost 4 decades for almost 58 million people to start using radio. However, almost 100 million people started using internet after only five years (Yasin & Yavas, 2007).
In the first decade of its official beginning or its advent, internet was mainly used for research purposes. Even though almost all of the facilities of internet were present at that time, it was difficult for a common man to use it for quite many reasons. One important reason was the high initial cost of the equipment. On the other hand, only people who mastered UNIX operating system had the privilege of using the internet. However, today with user friendly windows systems and cheaper rates of computer equipments, computers and internet is available to all.
In 1989, Tim Berners had tried very hard to make internet accessible to all by making the use of internet easy, however it was really in 1993 when the actual mass use of internet began. (Naughton, 2001) The internet is a global system and is being used in every country. However in some countries the use of internet is more than the other countries. For example; it has been estimated that almost 69% of the total internet users of the entire world are located in North America and Europe. Africa contributes less than 1% which is very shocking as it has more than 13% of the total World population.
The table below shows the number of internet users in each continent. (World Internet Stats, 2009) World Regions Population (2008 Est. ) Internet Users Latest Data Users % of Table Africa 975,330,899 54,171,500 3. 4 % Asia 3,780,819,792 657,170,816 41. 2 % Europe 803,903,540 393,373,398 24. 6 % Middle East 196,767,614 45,861,346 2. 9 % North America 337,572,949 251,290,489 15. 7 % Latin America/Caribbean 581,249,892 173,619,140 10. 9 % Oceania / Australia 34,384,384 20,783,419 1. 3 % WORLD TOTAL 6,710,029,070 1,596,270,108 100. 0 % World Internet Stats, 2009
It can be noticed form above that the numbers of internet users have grown considerably to a point where it can be predicted that soon the number of internet users will become fairly equal to the population. This means that today almost every household has a computer and every child in school is using internet. Internet as a communication place When the mass use of internet began, it soon enabled a global network and opened access for everyone. The advent of internet reflects a radical development in the information and communications sector.
The rise of internet has proven the fact that information is power. Today, with information at their fingertips, scholars, researchers, civil servants, the government and the society as a whole have all sorts of information available to them via the internet. The internet provides a communication place for many. Instead of calling people use msn messenger, yahoo, hotmail and other mail servers to get connected. The internet acts as a communication place for all of us and hence provide; – Fast publication of information and accessibility to this information The internet lowers the barriers to information publications. Today any breaking news can be read on the internet within minutes and hence the internet also provides groups and individuals a publication place which is free from all sorts of barriers. – Internet has made it difficult for the government to keep information under their control and sometimes even highly confidential and sensitive data gets leaked. – The internet helps people communicate on a global scale.
This communication is cheap and rapid – The internet helps in sharing information and their resources And the most important of all, internet facilitates and maintains global virtual communities via which people communicate, such as MySpace, Twitter, Facebook. The amount of information present on the internet is overwhelming. People can find information on anything and about anything. It even becomes difficult for the search engines to organize the data in directories. As on 24th April, 2009, the internet contains almost 23. 16 billion web pages. (World Wide Web Size, 2009) What is civic society and Social Capital? The internet acts as a place to meet people, talk and converse.
On the whole it can be said that the internet or the World Wide Web is a virtual community or a meeting place for millions of people. The concept of community has been under a lot of study since the term came up. It was after industrialization that the concept of a community began to take hold. The urbanization which followed the industrial revolution was the reason behind this study of the term community. (Nisbet, 1967). Many researchers (i. e Tonnies, 1887 and Durkheim, 1893) studied the impact of industrialization on a community. It was then that the concept loss of community was developed.
The term community is defined by Etioni (1993) as; ‘Webs of social relations that encompass shared meanings and above all shared values’ As the internet fulfills this meaning hence the existence of a virtual community on the internet with the help of applications like FaceBook and MySpace is quite acceptable. However, with this the loss of traditional meaning of community takes place. Social capital is the resources assessed through a social connection in a community. This terminology has taken hold recently and has been studied and researched upon by many scholars and researchers.
The concept of civil society is a combination of social capital and civic engagement. Therefore, civic society is act of trust which people show during the norms of a social life. This is measured by social capital. The social capital is the resources or features of the social life such as networks etc. These features or resources help the people in the community to get together or converse more often. (London, n. d) Civil society and social capital in the information age This is the information and technology age, where most o the people around the world is connected through the internet.
The debate on what a community actually is and the elements of a community has taken a shift after the advent of internet. In order to understand whether the internet contributed to the betterment of the civil society or decline of the civil society the impact the advent of television had on the civil society must be understood. It has been studies that the television contributed to the decline of the civil society and many say so did the internet. However, comparison of the tow cannot be carried on for too long as there is a vast difference between the two and both lie in a very different category.
The impact of internet is far more complex than the impact of television on the civil society. According to Robert Putman, the impact of technology on the life of a person is very noticeable. The busy effect, economic hardship they face and suburbanization are all the result of technological change. The nature of people is first not to accept any kind of change in their lives. The status quo always seems better. However, once when the person realizes that this change makes the life better and id for their own good, the rapid acceptance of that technology cannot be avoided. Putman, 2001) Putman also mention s that the entering of women in the workplace, marriage problems and disruption of family ties are many changes which can be noticed in the American society. Even though all of this cannot be blamed on the technological change and the internet, however it also cannot be declined that all of this is not due to internet and television. The internet has changed the way people think and communicate. It has had a great impact on the lives of people. The first important change is brought is the accessibility of information.
All kinds of information is available on the internet and it has become impossible to stop children from using it. A lot of school homework these days cannot be completed without using computer and internet, and when a child who does not know the difference between right and wrong gets information which is not suitable at his age, he indulges in wrong activities. This is the basic problem internet has started. Internet does provide a cheaper place for communication and publication of news, data and statistics, however it also provide a cheaper place for underage children to learn what they should not.
On the other hand traditional media is these days preferably printed on the internet. It is relatively inexpensive and the news can be spread all over the world in a matter of seconds. For example; it is impossible for any company to publish a full page pamphlet and distribute it all over the world. However, on the internet it can load several pages at a very low cost and the business knows for sure that the entire world will be reading it. The company does not have to pay any distribution cost in this as each subscriber getting the news pays for the internet himself.
On the other hand the company can also publish multimedia at lower rates. Hence the internet has totally changed the concept of traditional media. As so much internet and updated news is available on the internet people have stopped reading newspaper. There are very few elderly people who still read local newspapers, others simply get the news with a single click. This has also affected the habit of reading books. Reading and buying books has become a rarity and luxury in our society. Young people and teenagers specially, rarely buy a book or two for the sake of pleasure reading.
The books students have to read at school are the ones they ever read. This book reading habit has declined their reading habits, use of proper English and their knowledge base too. Students use clangs and short form of sentences in order to communicate on the internet. This has declined their punctuation and proper spelling skills. These young people along with other make the civil society. If one element of the society is not functioning properly the whole idea of a civil society collapses. The internet provides a medium of conversation and communication too. People communicated via e-mail systems such as hotmail, yahoo and Gmail.
Asynchronous conference system most ruminant of which is the Usenet provides a global conferencing system for the society. In this the participants start a certain topic which is then discussed in various messages. These messages are linked back and sort of form a discussion thread on that topic. Internet chats also [provide excellent communication place for many. Many people communicate through these chat rooms where the conversation is quick and easy. With the technological advancements the advancements in the internet has resulted in voice chat and now even video chat in which a person can talk to the person while seeing him live.
This is more like talking to person standing near you. If the chat rooms do not provide privacy a person can chat on Instant messengers. They provide a private chat room and the conversation you are having with a person cannot be read or listened b y anyone else unless you want them to read it or listen to it. In this conversation a person needs to have some kind of instant messenger installed on the system with a list of friends on it. When a person comes online or initiates a chat, the system notifies the other person and if he or she wants to he can talk to that person.
If the person is annoying or does not want to talk to the other person he can simply block him, which cannot be done in real life. Instant messengers have been very popular since they came up. It has also become very easy for individuals to share information resources. A simple click can place the entire resource on the FTP or can be digitized and placed on the internet. Hyper linking the elements makes it easy to index and organize information database. Virtual communities are by far the most popular part of internet. They are the ones which had a very tremendous impact on the idea of a civil society and social capital.
People today have most of their relationships on cyberspace. This relationship is beyond the geographical limitation. Internet has provided a place for social interaction ad has become a norm of people’s lives. People today are more connected through the internet than they are through by meeting people. Going to anybody’s place just to meet has become a rarity. People have most of their conversations on the internet. This has destroyed the traditional meaning of a civil society, however has saved people a lot of time too.
The community on the internet fits the meaning of a virtual community. Where people meet through video chats have conversations etc. However, the level of trust is less on the internet than in real life. Many researchers say that people on the internet compliment the social life rather than disrupt it and hence have a positive impact on the civil society. However many argue that the use of internet is even more unsociable than watching a television. When people sit on the internet for hours browsing for fun and playing games, they have a sense of more loneliness than watching television.
On the other hand researchers also say that people who use more internet are more socially active which is quite different from the fact that people who watch more television are less sociable. It was noticed that many people use internet for entertainment purposes i. e. downloading songs and movies etc, rather than engaging in actual social activities such as communication via e-mails or discussion boards. Internet is a blessing for isolated people who usually do not like to socialize and definitely do not like to be in a crowd. These people keep themselves to themselves and internet seems to be the best escape.
Here they can sit for hours looking at stuff they like and even buying things they want to without even stepping out of the house. The use of internet makes these people even more secluded and isolated. According to Wellman et al (2001), the internet activities can be divided in to two categories. One which promotes socializing and meeting people such as chatting, meeting on MySpace and Facebook etc and the other which does not promote socializing activities. These activities include playing games and web surfing etc. According to him; When the Internet engages people primarily in asocial activities, then even more than television, its immersiveness can turn people away from community, organizational and political involvement, and domestic life. By contrast, when people use the Internet to communicate and coordinate with friends, relatives, and organizations – near and far – then it is a tool for building and maintaining social capital (p. 16). ” According to his research a lot of communication on the internet and socializing on the web can actually result in a person diversion from the local community or actual physical socialization.
A person then spends more and more time on the internet and less with actually meeting people. On the other hand researchers also argue that more time spending on the internet means more social capital as people gather more information via browsing and web news. Websites with any kind of information are actually healthy for the society and adds social capital to the civil society. As mentioned by Wellman above, internet is more of a global network rather than a local network.
It has brought a revolution due to the fact that regardless of the physical location, a person can have global interaction. A person in Alaska can communicate and see a person live from India and Kenya. The internet creates a borderless world and hence interaction between different people living in different geographical location. According to another study by Wellman (2002), even though internet creates a borderless world and it is easy for people to communicate on the internet regardless of their physical location, the physical presence is always very important.
Their research reflected the point that people who see each other daily or more often or work together, send each other more mails than people who do not meet physically but are acquainted. Hence, the use of local information or the discussion on local news is important and people have less interest in the global network. On the other hand Doheny-Farina’s research (1996), reflected that people on the local net are usually interested to go global in order to find new opportunities and new ways to entertain themselves.
According to the book of Doheny-Farina ‘The Weird Neighborhood’; If usage statistics show little local use, with subscribers spending their time elsewhere, local agencies and businesses may cease to maintain the data files and the community system will be like a dying mid-town shopping center where shoppers drift away to out-of-town shopping malls (p. 152). Hence it can be seen that there are many problems associated with the local as well as the global internet. It has been noticed that simply providing the opportunity to access the local net lure people to use it.
The local net has to be made attractive for the user to actually start using it. Putnman (2000) described the relationship between internet and the society as follows; Social capital is about networks, and the Net is the network to all ends (p. 171). Many researchers believe that social capital can be created through online interaction. The reason behind this is discussed above that as internet provides information, people actually bring in resources to the society and hence more social capital. Conclusion
Internet is no doubt a vast medium which provides the opportunity to communicate and meet people. Some people turn this thing in to a positive and advantageous hobby while others engage in wrong deeds and hence do not bring a positive change in the society. How the use of internet will affect a person and eventually the society as a whole depends on how the person makes use of it. Contemporary society is moving towards more of personal interaction than a public interaction. The internet provides a medium for both. According to Kollock and Smith (1999),
It is widely believed and hoped that the ease of communicating and interacting online will lead to flourishing of democratic institutions, heralding a new and vital arena of public discourse. But to date, most online groups have the structure of either an anarchy [if unmoderated] or a dictatorship [if moderated] (p. 13). The level of trust is a vital part of any society. According to many studies there is more trust in a traditional civil society than online communities. People tend to trust people more when they meet them face to face. On the internet a person can have a very different characteristics and identity than he actually has.
He can give false specifications and even a false photo, and as many incidents like these have been reported, it has been noticed that people tend to trust online users less than they trust a person when they meet them in person. So in order to reduce the level of distrust in the online community, the administrators of these communities do not let anonymous users to write something or contribute in any event of the community. In many communities the administrator is so strict that any user who has not registered is not even allowed to browse through the possible activities of that community.
People with any kind of physical handicap find the internet as a best resort and without actually physically meeting with people, who might or might not mock them. According to Rehingold (1993); People whose physical handicaps make it difficult to form new friendships may find that virtual communities treat them as they always wanted to be treated as thinkers and transmitters, not carnal vessels with a certain appearance and way of walking and talking (or not walking and talking) (p. 26). To summarize, internet is a place to socialize and meet people.
It is different from the traditional idea of a civic society. Virtual communities on the internet have shaped the lives of people and they have become more social on the internet than in actual life. Some researches show that people who are more active on the internet are also more active in real life. On the other hand critics also believed that people who sit more on the computer tend to get de-socialized and these people have little interaction with people physically. Internet is considered worst than the television in many cases.
It is said that a person who sits on the internet browsing and playing games tend to be less social and has a feeling of loneliness in him than the person who sits and watches television all day. Internet has definitely shaped the lives of people in a different way. People now tend to interact more on the internet than they actually do physically. Applications like FaceBook and MySpace have definitely changes the idea of a civil society. Even though there are many disadvantages associated with the internet, as mentioned in this research, it has many positive aspects.
The positive aspects are far more in magnitude and have a positive effect on the lives of people. Internet provides a medium for communication for people who are shy and less social. These people eventually tend to get social after they have spent a significant time online talking to people. Internet brings in a positive change in the lives of many. People who do not have time to actually go and meet people can talk to people here to shed of their feeling of loneliness. Even with a low trust factor on the internet, people tend to be using it more and more every day.
As the internet knows no boundaries and a person from India can communicate with people in America, therefore it has also been noticed that internet eliminating the cultural difference between different societies. A person sitting in one part of the world can see what the person on the other hemisphere wears or eats. The adaption of convenient and good things has helped eliminate the cultural difference. Some take this thing positively and others argue that this is a loss of their heritage. On the whole the internet has been the best and the most dynamic creation of this century and has changed the lives of many people all around the globe.