Has the Internet Democratized Our Society  Research Paper

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Internet and Democracy

In one sense, computers and the Internet are just a continuation of the communications revolution, starting with the printing press then continuing with the telegraph, telephone, motion pictures, radio and television. Could this be leading to a more fundamental change in history on the same level as the agricultural and industrial revolutions? This is a more problematic proposition. Of course, the idea of a post-industrial economy based on services and high technology dates back to the 1960s, although some visionaries had an inkling of it even in the 19th Century. Skills and education that were valuable in an industrial economy have become obsolete in the new system, although this has happened before in the history of capitalism. Society has changed relatively little from the era before the computer age, with only a few exceptions, such as the use of computers to speed up financial transactions and in scientific efforts like the search for alien life through SETI@Home and for determining the human genome. Supposedly, these new technologies would be the death knell of repressive authoritarian and totalitarian regimes everywhere, and open of the door to a new liberal-democratic culture of global capitalism and universal human rights. In 1989-91 the fall of the Iron Curtain seemed to conform that this new era was finally at hand. Needless to say, this has not happened, and authoritarian governments like those in Iran and China are well able to monitor, censor and control the Internet. They may never be able to accomplish perfectly and completely, but their powers of censorship, control and intimidation of individual users and Internet companies are considerable indeed. Although both the dangers and benefits of the new high technology society and economy have certainly been exaggerated over the past forty years, this does not negate the fact that the impact of technology has been significant. It has made the speed and efficiency of financial transactions, news, communications and information exchange much greater, and facilitated major advances in science and mathematics. On the other hand, the fact remains that the majority of people in the world are poor and that their jobs are dull, routine and often poorly paid, which was also the case during the industrial revolution.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ABSTRACT 2

Table of Contents & #8230;.4

Introduction 5

Poverty, Inequality and Work in the Information Age 7

Repressive Regimes and Facebook Revolutions 8

Conclusion 13

Reference List 14

Introduction: How Revolutionary is the High Tech Revolution?

There have been three great technological revolutions in history. About 12,000 years ago, in the late Neolithic period, humans began to move from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural ones. Then 6,000 years ago the learned how to fashion metal tools and weapons during the so-called Bronze Age. About 300 years ago, the Industrial Revolution began, with the first early steam engines and textile mills, followed in due course by railroads, gasoline and electrical motors, nuclear power, jet and rocket engines. All of these revolutions have "irreversibly altered the course of human history and fundamentally refashioned human societies" (McClellan and Dorn 2006, p. 275). At the same time, there has been an intellectual and scientific revolution led by luminaries like Newton, Darwin and Einstein that fundamentally changed humanity's view of the universe and its place within it.

In one sense, computers and the Internet are just a continuation of the communications revolution, starting with the printing press then continuing with the telegraph, telephone, motion pictures, radio and television. Could this be leading to a more fundamental change in history on the same level as the agricultural and industrial revolutions? This is a more problematic proposition. Of course, the idea of a post-industrial economy based on services and high technology dates back to the 1960s, although some visionaries had an inkling of it even in the 19th Century. Skills and education that were valuable in an industrial economy have become obsolete in the new system, although this has happened before in the history of capitalism. In an economy and society increasingly based on virtual realities and interactions, there will certainly be some major changes in human culture and psychology (Barglow 1994). Although today "no one would design a bridge or a large building without using computers," many people seem to forget that high quality construction and engineering was all done without the benefit of computers fifty or one hundred years ago (Baase 2009, p. 4).

People in the past could also socialize and communicate without the benefit of email and the Internet; they could obtain news without blogging or look at the encyclopedia without Wikipedia, and even though none of these existed ten years ago, this seems like a different age. Despite all the great increases in the speed and efficiency of communication "citizens normally pursue a lifestyle that would be broadly recognizable to their ancestors 50 years earlier" (Walsham, p. 3). Apart from the computer industry, there has not been a new industrial revolution equivalent to that in the 18th and 19th Centuries, with the radical break with traditional agrarian society and the unprecedented changes in "food, clothing, housing, or transportation" (Agre, p. 5). Society has changed relatively little from the era before the computer age, with only a few exceptions, such as the use of computers to speed up financial transactions and in scientific efforts like the search for alien life through SETI@Home and for determining the human genome. On the Internet "valuable and worthless indiscriminately mixed," with racist and pornographic websites among the most popular (Rosenberg 2004, p. 18). In a society where more transactions were being carried out online, a new type of cyber criminal developed with the special skills necessary to steal electronically.

In the past thirty years, the new technological developments in the area of personal computing and the Internet were routinely heralded as open up a liberal New World Order in which individuals and businesses would have free access to more information than even before in history. Supposedly, these new technologies would be the death knell of repressive authoritarian and totalitarian regimes everywhere, and open of the door to a new liberal-democratic culture of global capitalism and universal human rights. In 1989-91 the fall of the Iron Curtain seemed to conform that this new era was finally at hand. Needless to say, this has not happened, and authoritarian governments like those in Iran and China are well able to monitor, censor and control the Internet. They may never be able to accomplish perfectly and completely, but their powers of censorship, control and intimidation of individual users and Internet companies are considerable indeed.

Poverty, Inequality and Work in the Information Age

Some people like the "self-explorers" described by Kinsman have been of the cutting edge of experiencing the libertarian side of the new technology (Kinsman 1990). On the other hand, inequality has actually increased during the new era of high technology and computers, both within and among nations. By the year 2000, just 358 billionaires had more wealth than the bottom half of the entire world's population combined, which was proportionally much greater than in 1960, or even the 1920s and the 1890s (Walsham, p. 24). In Class Warfare in an Information Age, Michael Perlman made it clear that the age of high technology is hardly going to mean the end of social classes or class conflict. Distinctions between those who own and control the new technology vs. those who work for them and consume their products will continue as always, and those who cannot afford to access the new technology will be relegated to lower class status as well (Perlman 2000. There is a growing gap between information and knowledge workers and those who still perform more traditional tasks.

For decades, workers have been rightly concerned about what would become of them in an economy increasingly taken over by computers and automation. This is not a new issue, however, since the tendency to replace human labor with machines has been constant from the early days of the Industrial Revolution. Early-19th Century 'Luddites' and machine-breakers were often hand-loom weavers displaced by the first generation technology of the factory system. Then as now, workers feared a future in which jobs would no longer have any place for "human comprehension and judgment" and would become "increasingly isolated, routine, and perfunctory" (Zuboff 1988, p. 7). Working at home has become far more common in the Internet age as well, at least for those workers with the skills and abilities to benefit from these new technologies. In many ways, though, the new high tech workplace with employees confined to cubicles and performing routine tasks under continual supervision is not fundamentally different from the old Fordist factory, except that the skill levels are higher, the shop floor quieter and the job centred on processing of information rather than parts and raw materials.

Managers of large corporations and the national security state can and do use the new technologies for surveillance and control. New developments in technology have the effect of creating an…

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