A Literature Review: Does the Internet make Society Smarter?
April 23, 2013
In the last few decades, the internet has become a household phenomenon that has
reached hundreds of millions of people worldwide. Life without the internet seems unimaginable,
especially to the young generation of internet users. Despite the conventional function of
providing information and connecting people around the globe, the internet may actually impact
society in a more sophisticated way.
A review written by Stipe(2010) amplifies how the internet opens doors to people
searching for information that may not be normally available to the public. Through the use of
search engines, ordinary people all over the world can access previously secluded information
like corporate financial statements or industry news. In addition, people can filter their search
results by name, location, and heading (Stipe, 1996). Stipe’s report, however, was published
nearly 20 years ago, a time when the internet’s main function was strictly related to business and
before its use spread to common consumers of society (Keary, 2001). Today the internet
consists of users from all folds of society all over the world, ultimately changing the way the
internet is utilized. In the 21st century, internet usage became increasingly popular among
ordinary people in western society reaching 90 million users in 2,000 (Keary, 2001). With the
dissemination of knowledge in vast quantities over the internet, society became more informed
and was enabled to obtain information on almost any topic within a short space of time. This
development in technology empowered consumers to make better consumption decisions,
triggering the improvement in quality standards across the board (Buyer, 1999). Furthermore, a
study conducted by Schwartz in collaboration with the United States Emergency Department
(ED) and the Emergency Medicine Residents (EMR) analyzes whether it is safe for ordinary
consumers to answer clinical questions in the ED with access to the internet. By utilizing a
search engine, ordinary people without any training in medicine could answer 59% of the
questions that EMR could not (Schwartz, 2010). Clearly, this study demonstrates that access to a
search engine on the internet enables people to be educated in fields they were not trained in.
The study concludes that the internet can significantly improve a person’s knowledge in
medicine but should not be treated as a reliable source to treat patients (Schwartz, 2010).
Access to practically infinite information on the internet has also created a
negative effect on society: the threat of radicalization and misinformation (Keary, 2001). The
abundance of “racist, sexist, and other extremist” (Keary, 2001) information has given rise to
more organized, global, and calculating groups that promote hatred. More predominant in
regions on earth where unemployment is high and economic conditions are poor, access to this
type of information on the internet may radicalize the population leading to terrorism and
intolerance. In a different light, the internet may actually have a far softer but wide-spread
dumbing effect on society simply by wasting people’s time (Pfeiffer, 2013). According to Yahoo
news, 80% of people web-surfing the internet are not being productive. Companies are
experiencing difficulties of preventing their employees from wasting time on the internet.
Imposing bans on smart phones and computers in the workplace is a gray area policy which
would portray the company management as ‘big-brother’ (Pfeiffer, 2013). Furthermore, a study
by Ugrin and Pearson, professor/assistant professor at Southern Illinois University and Kansas
State University, demonstrates that people of all ages waste time on the internet. Younger people
tend to be on social networking sites while elderly people spend time checking their financial
As any other technology, the internet presents both threats and opportunities to society.
It is the responsibility of the individual to use the technology in a way that will benefit them.
Legislators and managers should foster productive use of technology by educating people rather
than enforcing rules. Experts are forecasting that the future holds an age of digitalization (Keary,
2001), an environment where virtually all data will be accessible on the internet. This means
that anyone with a smart phone device will be able to upload information on the internet for
anyone to view. As a consequence, one possible way of balancing your information input is
supplementing internet sources with articles, journals, and newspapers (Stipe, 1996). Facilitated
and independent journalists publishing on the internet also help diversify information by
presenting a variety of new perspectives. However, they may also cause data overflow (Keary,
2001). For people with personal or medical issues, the internet may provide important advice and
information providing solutions for specific health conditions (Schwartz, 2010). Online blogger
communities and social networking sites enable people to interact with others they have never
actually met in the physical world. In this regard, society becomes more integrated with the
presence of the internet.
To conclude, the internet is making society more tolerant and intelligent as a whole by
fostering integration and exposing people to information. With proper education and balanced
exposure to information, society will be able to utilize the internet as a gateway for technological
progress and social amalgamation going forward.
Sources:
Pfeiffer, 2013, Up to 80 percent of time spent online at work is ‘wasted,’ according to study,
Yahoo News, Sunnyvale CA, USA.
Keary, 2001, The internet and the changing information environment, Emerald Group Publishing
Limited, Bradford, UK.
Schwartz, 2010, Are internet searches a reliable source of information for answering residents’
clinical questions in the emergency room, AMC, New York, USA.
Stipe, 1996, Tap the internet’s endless supply of information, A.M. Best Company, Oldwick,
USA.
By a student from Erasmus Univeristy, Rotterdam, NL