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There are various expert views and statistics to support the positive influence of the Internet on education. A survey conducted by Pew Internet & American Life indicates that 86% of U.S. college students use the Internet. The study states that students perceive the Internet as essential to their academic lives. "While close on 80% of college students in the United States claim that the medium has had a positive impact on their college academic experience, about 73% use the Internet more than the library for research." (ibid) According to Draves, online learning is being increasingly recognized as a valid learning delivery system. "The number of part time students in higher education, to name just one educational system, now outnumbers full time students. The number of colleges offering online courses last year soared to over 1,000, and the number is growing. Online graduate programs and certificate programs have doubled over one year ago. "(ibid)
On the other hand there are commentators who state that education is not equally available for all. The "digital divide" is often cited to point out that many countries and areas within societies do not have the same access as others. Therefore, many of those critical of the Internet state that the Intent is merely reinforcing class and status differences that were previously part of society.
Besides the numerous and increasing praise for the Internet, there are some more cautious and critical voices. One of the aspects that have become a contentious point of debate is online privacy and security issues. There are fears that the Internet will be used by authorities and governments to intrude into the lives of individuals and that the Internet can become a form of "big brother," though continual social and individual surveillance. "Privacy is already a hot issue when it comes to surveillance, especially with regard to recent governmental and corporate developments. Privacy may become an even more of a problematic factor in the future." (Lutge-Smith, T.) This is the view of Nathaniel S. Borenstein, a software strategist and author. He predicts that "... The negative future aspect of the Internet includes 'massive surveillance of citizens by the government and by large corporations." (ibid)
Borenstein, and others are also of the opinion that the Internet will have a problematic influence on society in that it will contribute to the globalization of culture. This is viewed in a negative light as endangering the existence of minority cultures and languages.
It is clear for the above discussion that there are pros and cons in ascertaining the impact of the Internet on society. As Lutge-Smith states in her article on new predictions about the Internet,
The ambivalence about ways in which the Internet can affect society in the future should not come as a surprise considering the history of technological innovations. Each new technological innovation brings with it developments that both benefit and create new problems for society. The initial creation of the Internet was seen as a definite boon for society - a means for easy and immediate global communications and information sharing; and a general feeling of a new age of cultural and national interaction. While this perception still remains, many have begun to realize that the future of society and the Internet is more complex than idealistic perceptions may suggest.
The above quotation points to the fact that, like all technical changes affecting society, the Internet revolution is complex and cannot be seen in simplistic terms as definitely positive or negative.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that the Internet is having a dramatic and far reaching affect on all aspects of society. It is also clear that the majority of these changes is of a positive nature and potentially can be important factors in the improvement of society.
One of the aspects that many commentators and experts refer to is the danger that the Internet will be "hijacked" by big business and commerce to become primarily a commercial and advertising zone. Many fear that the freedoms and the sense of information sharing and reciprocity that started the Internet could be subsumed by corporations and other factors. Another aspect is that the Internet needs some ethical and moral basis for which to function. Professor Borenstein states that to fully unlock the potential of the Internet and to enhance society "...we must begin to formulate the ethical and political principles that should ultimately define the role of the Internet in all human interactions. " (Lutge-Smith, T.) on the other hand there are many critics who state that any attempt to formulate 'rules" pertaining to the internet would stifle any openness and freedom. The debate about the impact of the Internet on society continues and will only be resolved in relation to future technical and social developments.
Ebo, Bosah, ed. Cyberghetto or Cybertopia?: Race, Class, and Gender on the Internet. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1998.
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Lutge-Smith, T. How the Internet will change society: new predictions. May 7, 2005. http://www.klixxx.com/archive/internetsociety.shtml
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