Cyberspace: the Sociology of Good and the Bad Aspects
This manuscript discusses the good and bad social aspects of the cyberspace. It particularly focuses on the Internet, being the most eminent form that mainly affects people's communication, political, and social practices.
Cyberspace now touches all lives (Jordan 1999, 1). True enough, the cyberspace and its related mechanisms are rapidly transforming and enhancing many aspects of contemporary society and living. Accordingly, cyberspace is synonymously referred to the Internet or the World Wide Web (Sterling 1992). It is primarily and quickly becoming the mainstream media because of the many positive effects that it has on the way that users communicate, receive and disseminate information, or how people use it to gratify their needs. With the perceived efficiency of cyberspace, there are also existent drawbacks that deviates its potential goodness. Because of its powerful prospective, the cyberspace certainly changes how people live people and views the society (Turkle 1995).
Today, the cyberspace, particularly the Internet was used extensively for communications, information gathering, and dissemination. There are four important factors applicable to the Internet that do not overlap with traditional mass media such as television, radio and print, and which bear on the Internet's potential for democracy. These include: the anarchic nature of the Internet, its interactive features which allow direct feedback to individual articles and opinions, the possibility for web sites to create content primarily through the contributions of its readers, and longevity of materials (NUA 2001). Early users have continuing excitement about the Internet and saw it as stimulating positive change in people's lives by creating new forms of interaction and enhancing relationship. According to Baym (1997) and Wellman (2001) the Internet would restore community by providing a meeting space for people with common interest, overcoming limitations of space and time. Also, the Internet has rapidly transformed the financial markets by revolutionizing the way financial services are created, managed and delivered. There have been many claims in recent years that the Internet offers new opportunities to engage in politics as it brings new opportunities for direct access to politically relevant information.
The Cyberspace and Communication
According to Jordan (1999), cyberspace is created and often called a virtual world because it does not exist in tangible, physical reality but in the light and electronics of communications technology. Today, globalization has come to dominate modern politics, economics, culture, and society. Some celebrate this new global village where borders and distance becomes relevant. In this globalize view, the cyberspace has become the symbol which link distant localities, intensify worldwide social relations and give market forces are greater efficacy and primacy. In particular, the Internet's speed, interactivity and connectivity greatly facilitate the acquisition and absorption of knowledge, offering developing countries unprecedented opportunities to enhance and improve policy formulation and execution (Cairncross 1997; Ohmae, 1990).
The Internet came about a little over a decade ago and has been growing ever since. Originally, it started out as a communication tool for the government and then it got into the hands of the general public. People use the Internet for anything and everything imaginable. According to Abbate (1999) and Castells (2001), the Internet did not emerge until the year 1982. It began its rapid ascent only in the early 1990s, when graphical interfaces became widely available and commercial interests were allowed to participate. With the development of the web, communication became one of its most predominant functions. On the other hand, communication is central to human rights. The ability to express one freely is not only a fundamental right for all human beings but is also the main tool for those who work to improve human rights. Communication is an important part of a free and democratic society, in which people may say and do what they want as long as they do not endanger the rights of others.
Furthermore, there are promising aspects of the Internet as a site for public forum that revived the concept of public sphere. The ability of small interest groups to find and communicate with each other provides benefits to individuals who are challenged geographically to communicate and interact with each other. This applies whether it is a case of personal interconnectedness with friends, relatives and families but this fact also holds true among large and multi-national business industries which deploy employees in different countries for expatriate assignments. The cyberspace is a medium that transmits information virtually instantaneously between computers, individuals, and groups of people. Because of this, information transmission has become a defining characteristic of the Internet and the term communication is often conflated with the channels or media through which message are transmitted. Many people use the Internet as a means of communication. By definition, the Internet is a network of networks, enabling individuals in different parts of the world to share ideas. Despite some limitations like the cost of online access and technical barriers in some parts of the world, many people believe that the Internet is a cheaper, faster, more efficient way to communicate with people around the world than phone calls, faxes, or regular mail. Unlike other forms of communication media, the Internet is a pull technology. The user has to initiate the connection and the information downloading process. In this way, the user performs all the work in retrieving the information, which makes it a pull technology. Most of the other forms of media work as a push technology.
Individuality in the diverse social setting is also provided by the Internet since it offers a venue for all kinds of people to air and address their views and grievances to particular social institutions as well as to specific individuals. Opposing opinions are all made available to the public and balanced as well as equality of views are presented. Storage and retrieval of important data and information are also features of the Internet for more efficient information management in cases of reviews and researches. Online communities are formed wherein people of similar lifestyle, interests and views can develop small interconnected virtual society that will cater to their specific needs and interests. Interactivity is guaranteed because of the interconnectedness between the audience members and that of the web sites enabling more numbers of two-way communications than what has been previously possible. However, according to Thorton (2002), these contributions of the Internet do not hold out the promise of a revolutionary change to participatory democracy or a new Athenian age, but they do present an opportunity for more voices to be heard in the public sphere in a new way.
But it should be pointed out and further emphasized that voices and opinions are will be addressed using the features of the Internet will only be applicable to people who have their Internet connection. This creates a social divide in terms of the economic capacity of a person to avail of a computer unit and eventually an Internet connection. There will be inevitable cases of individuals who hold strong principle regarding a specific issue, topic or social problem but he or she lack the means of voicing out his or her personal views because of the financial challenges. In this light, the Internet provides the contributions mentioned and discussed above to people who can avail the services that are offered by this technological innovation.
One of the central problems in relation to the ideal of Internet as a force for participatory democracy is that of full participation. As Lebkowsky (1999) argued, "In cyberspace, it's easy to avoid commitment and accountability". This is manifested in the freedom to express ideas through discussion groups and email lists but the question is on the accountability of the strong opinion as to be supported also by real follow-up remains avoidable. As people include him/her self in cyber discussions, sooner or later he/she must take a stand. Lebkowsky (1999) added that people's online identity and presence are malleable. It is easy to slide from one position to another, but if he/she wants to be effective, he/she must ultimately decide what to believe and make some commitments. Also, the issue of international communication must be address. International communication is only possible if people are able to converse with one another. Millions of people cannot access the Internet because their languages are not the net's primary operating language.
Since the beginning of the Internet, it has been linked with politics. The Internet started as a government founded project, so without political support it would not have reached the people it does today. But despite the political effects on the Internet, the Internet has had enormous effects on politics. The Internet has greatly lowered the costs of transmitting information, enabling people to bypass traditional intermediaries whose power revolved around the control of information: national governments, the diplomatic corps, transnational corporations, and news organizations, among others. Experts believe that the Internet may have considerable potential to reach and engage opinion leaders who influence the thinking and behavior of others (Schwartz 1996; Davis, Elin and Reeher 2002). With this, it is a potent and widely open space for political activism or cyberactivism. The future of the Internet and politics is reflected to some criticisms directed to the process. The practice of cyberactivism was criticized because it gives unequal access to poor people, minorities, and elderly citizens in terms of financial ability and inexperience. This is particularly applicable to third world countries that hold a strong need to development in education and technology. Internet technology is changing at such a rapid pace that it is very hard to predict not only what its implications will be in the years to come, it is hard to tell what it will be like a few months from now.
In historic instances, some terrorist organizations have used the Internet to coordinate decentralized activities or to promote their cause and point of view (Emerson 2005). This is where some political ideologies come at clash. The flow of political information through the cyberspace is a function of the supply and demand for information. The demand arises from citizen's interest in politics, their partisanship, their affect, and their resources while the supply information arises from political agent's interest in producing and distributing political information and the capacity for distributing the information (Fischer et al 1977). In short, the Internet increases the supply information and communication by increasing the capacity for distributing the information. The specific ways in which the Internet increases the supply of information and communication can be summarized by six key concepts according to Graber and Graber (1992) which are in terms of propagation, narrowcasting, automation, mediation, knowledge representation, and virtual organization. These changes have potentially important political consequences because even relatively minor variations in communication structures can produce substantial differences in information flow and in the distribution of political influence. For instance, the election's campaign that took place in the previous years in almost all parts of the world is highly characterized with the involvement of the Internet (Mack 2004).
In regards to politics, the Internet will definitely continue to have a huge role. The Internet is providing people with new means of communication that will affect the political process. Because people can now access information via Internet, people are now more informed and will use their new found knowledge. The common Internet user will have more and more say in how things are done. Politicians will need to listen more to the people because they will be more informed, more organized, and more motivated. From now on, it will not just be long-time politicians involved in the process but also the Internet-educated people. The Internet is providing people with more access to politics and thus politics will be affected by more people. Politics is a huge aspect of human life. Similarly, the Internet is emerging as such. These two systems will undoubtedly be linked in this new century and the next future.
The explosive growth of the Internet itself has also raised concerns about its effect on society. The Internet is quickly becoming an essential part of the daily lives of millions of people around the globe because it affects almost every aspect of the modern society and has numerous advantages for those who have access. The Internet has social benefits because it allows quick and easy communication. It gives citizens the opportunity to become active in their communities and obtain information at a quick and rapid rate. The Internet also had many economic benefits including improvement in productivity, reduction in costs, increase in trade, and the ability to access new markets. It also has important educational benefits. The Internet gives users access to vast amounts of information around the globe. It allows quick and effective communication, while exceeding the concern of spatial distances. But, the fact remains that the unprecedented democracy over the web paves way for some individuals to do some destructive actions. More so, users may also access on pornographic and sexually explicit sites. Also, privacy and security issues are budding. According to 1999 report from the USA Federal Trade Commission (in Udo 2001), information is gathered on the Internet both directly and indirectly. When a user enters a chat room discussion, leaves a message on a bulletin board, registers with a commercial site, enters a contest, or orders a product, he/she directly and knowingly sends information into cyberspace. The report further states that data can be gathered indirectly, without the user's knowledge (Udo 2001).
Sproull and Kiesler (1991) observed the importance of understanding Internet's social impact. One reason to expect significant social impact is the Internet's role in communication. From the early days of networked mainframe computers up to the present, interpersonal communication has been the technology's most frequent use. Since the primary use of the Internet is communication, people might speculate that the Internet will have positive social consequences in people's everyday lives, because it increases the frequency and quality of interpersonal communications among people. People with easy access to others ought to feel better connected and more strongly supported by others, leading to happiness and engagement in families, organizations, communities, and society more generally.
On the other hand, the ease of electronic communication may lead to weaker social ties, because people have less reason to leave their homes and actually interact face to face with other people. The Internet allows people to more easily work from their home, to form and sustain friendships and even romantic attachments from their home, to bank from their home, to vote and engage in political and social-issue-based discussions with others in their communities from home, and to pursue other social connections from their home. In this wide variety of ways, Internet communications can potentially displace face-to-face and telephone communications. This is important because psychologists have often described such face-to-face and telephone connections as being of higher quality, when viewed in terms of their contribution to satisfaction and well-being (Tyler 2002).
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 savior of these people for it hides the simple traits of age, looks and class. It can allow people to gain positions and gain friends that they would never otherwise have the chance to in real life. While the Internet is unique among other media, it makes easy for people to assemble (at a distance) and communicate with many others at the same time in such settings as chat rooms or online discussion forums. Online communities come in very different shapes and sizes, ranging from virtual communities that connect geographically distant people with no prior acquaintance who share similar interests, to settings that facilitate interactions among friendship networks or family members, to community networks that focus on issues relevant to a geographically defined neighborhood (Smith and Kollock 1999; Wellman and Gulia 1999; Preece 2000). With this, the spread of racial vilification is at risk. It should be pointed out that voices and opinions are will be addressed using the features of the Internet will only be applicable to people who have their Internet connection. This creates a social divide in terms of the economic capacity of a person to avail of a computer unit and eventually an Internet connection. There will be inevitable cases of individuals who hold strong principle regarding a specific issue, topic or social problem but he or she lack the means of voicing out his or her personal views because of the financial challenges. In this light, the Internet provides the contributions to people who can avail the services that are offered by this technological innovation. There are also cases when although a person has the means and resources to be virtually active in the political and social debates which are facilitated by the Internet, the individual however, lack the interest of participating in the intellectual discourse. The other forms of leisure provided by the Internet are often the option for most individuals. Any discussion of this issue must account for the extraordinarily first-world bias of the Internet. Literacy rates and education vary widely across the world, and are minimal or non-existent in many places.
In general, Wallace (1999) affirmed that the Internet is rapidly transforming society. The continuously developing technological revolution that includes information and communication technologies (ICT) has the potential to improve all aspects of life. ICT allows users to obtain, develop, transform, and transmit a broad range of information at an extremely rapid pace. As communication is a source of development for the 21st century. The entire world should have the privilege of access to new technology. Global efforts from the developed nations of the world are imperative to bridge the digital divide. The entire world should have the privilege of access to new technology. Through global efforts to bridge the digital divide, the entire world's population will hopefully be able to participate in the global information society.
The long term future of the Internet as well as the entire cyberspace is unclear. But it seems a safe bet to forecast that its entire mechanisms will constantly develop as it is very dynamic in nature. For now, the original purpose of the Internet is to distribute and process information or communication system that is resistant to the barrier of space and time. Also, centralized risks are being realized and will continue. It is known that the good aspects of the cyberspace are the usefulness of the Web as a tool for the free flow of information, the wealth of information available, and the diversity of the audience who are able to instantly communicate with each other (Ridener no date). On the other hand, the bad aspects are seen in the evidences of abuse and irresponsibility marked in terrorism, cyberactivism, pornography, racial discrimination, and others. According to Thieme (1997), the cyberspace is a symbolic representation of the human soul and everything that shows is an image of ourselves. 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.
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