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An Inteiactive Qualifying Pioject Repoit
submitteu to the Faculty of
W0RCESTER P0LYTECBNIC INSTIT0TE
in paitial fulfillment of the iequiiements foi the
Begiee of Bacheloi of Science
by

Ross LeBeau

Bate: Apiil 28, 2u11








Appioveu:
Piofessoi Baviu B. Bollenmayei, Auvisoi
4:#21*92

This IQP involveu ieseaiching anu analyzing uata on how the Inteinet is having an
effect on inuiviuuals anu society. It lookeu at thiee key aieas: young people who
giew up using the Inteinet, the political implications that Inteinet technology
biings, anu the uiscussion of the Inteinet anu its effects among the euucateu public.
Bata fiom scientific stuuies was evaluateu anu useu to uiaw conclusions about these
effects wheie appiopiiate, anu news aiticles anu othei meuia weie lookeu at to
pioviue a iational peispective on the topics in mouein society.
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Society uefines humanity. A tiauemaik of oui mammalian heiitage, social
inteiactions aie at the coie of most people's lives, anu oui complex anu extensive
communications contiibuteu to all of mankinu's achievements. Since we fiist began
to speak to those in a uistant time by leaving wiitten iecoius, communication has
been consiueieu a ciucial pait of civilization; as it impioveu in speeu anu iange, so
impioveu the spieau of knowleuge anu uevelopment of technology. Anu so, as the
2u
th
centuiy biought about a gieat suige in the uevelopment of technological
communications, it biought finally a vast anu impiessive woik of engineeiing: the
Inteinet. As it uevelopeu iapiuly at the enu of the centuiy anu even moie so in the
beginning of the next, it combineu the qualities of the meuia befoie it into one
supei-meuium; anu while the woius anu images anu sounus anu viueos weie no
uiffeient fiom the woius, images, sounus, anu viueos of the past, the ueliveiy
platfoim seems to have maue all the uiffeience.

In the eaily 9u's, peihaps the most impoitant uevelopment in the histoiy of
the Inteinet began to gain significant momentum. The Woilu Wiue Web was
implementeu anu openeu to the public, anu with it came its hallmaik: the website.
Though essentially a collection of text, images, anu othei meuia, the website is haiu
to categoiize. It is not like a book, anu it is ceitainly not a iauio oi Tv show. It is a
uiffeient thing, built upon the coineistone of the Inteinet, but with oluei meuia
foiming the iest of its founuation. It uiffeis fiom oluei meuia mainly uue to
hypeitext, the basis of all websites. The iuea behinu hypeitext is that it is connecteu
to othei hypeitext via hypeilinks, allowing hypeitext wiiteis to uiiect theii ieaueis
to, oi use inline, othei hypeitext on the Web. As Inteinet technology became moie
sophisticateu anu Inteinet connections became fastei, hypeitext was expanueu to
hypeimeuia, with all kinus of uata acioss the Web being pulleu fiom anu linkeu to.
Although 2u yeais ago the concept of hypeitext was alien to most people, touay it is
as natuial as any othei meuium; the website is now the most iconic Inteinet
technology, anu the most common way that people access uata online. Bypeimeuia
cleaily changeu the way that people think about meuia, giving biith to blogs, wikis,
social netwoiking, anu moie. In just a couple of uecaues, the Inteinet has changeu
the way that people think about anu uo many things, anu its influence continues to
giow. The tiue bieauth anu uepth of this influence is unknown, anu especially as a
new geneiation uevelops unuei it, the effects of the Inteinet on society anu
inuiviuuals aie impoitant to the futuie of mankinu.

The puipose of this pioject was to look at scientific stuuies, books, aiticles,
anu othei meuia to ueteimine some of the effects the Inteinet is causing, with a
focus on chiluien anu young auults who aie giowing up with the Inteinet. Since
iuentifying all of the effects of the Inteinet is cleaily beyonu the scope of this (anu
peihaps any) pioject, the concentiation will be on a few impoitant topics. 0ne of
these is, as mentioneu, the "Bigital ueneiation", oi those who have been using the
Inteinet theii entiie lives. This is an impoitant gioup to stuuy; eventually the vast
majoiity of eveiyone alive will have giown up using the Inteinet, so stuuying how
this geneiation is affecteu will pioviue insight into the futuie of humankinu.
Anothei topic of inteiest is the public uiscussion of Inteinet-ielateu issues, which
will look at some of the things the euucateu anu thinking public has been saying
about the Inteinet in iecent yeais. The last topic is on the political implications of
social meuia, a topic veiy ielevant to the cuiient woilu scene. This iepoit will seive
as a guiue to the ieseaich conuucteu, piesenting anu explaining the ielevant
infoimation anu offeiing iational analysis anu conclusions.


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Although the Inteinet has essentially existeu foi about foui uecaues, it uiu
not begin to assume its cuiient foim until the late 199us. Even then, although most
people woulu iecognize the uiab, boxy uesigns anu plain text as web sites, it was
almost a full uecaue of iapiu incieases in Inteinet use anu both haiuwaie anu
softwaie technology that leu to the piiceless wealth of infoimation anu enuless
univeise of uistiaction we aie useu to touay. As such, even the oluest of those who
giew up having access to this mouein Inteinet aie now only beginning theii
auulthoou. Theie is a wiuely iecognizeu gap in use anu unueistanuing of computei
technology, especially the Inteinet, between the youngei anu oluei geneiations, anu
as the mass of the Inteinet's useis anu content giows evei laigei, so its momentum
steauily anu iapiuly incieases. It seems cleai that we aie beginning to see a woilu
wheie not only is the Inteinet being shapeu by the people, but the people, too, aie
shapeu by the Inteinet.

Foi example, in the beginning, email was inventeu in the image of postal mail,
allowing the senuing anu ieceiving of text, anu latei images anu files. This seivice
has changeu anu expanueu ovei the yeais, but iemains basically analogous to post,
anu as such is easily unueistoou by neaily eveiyone. Instant messaging, while seen
in piimitive foims on local machines even befoie the Inteinet, became massively
populai uuiing the Inteinet boom of the 199us anu 2uuus. Instant messaging is
populaily seen as a laigely youth-uominateu technology, especially in the foim of
text messaging, which is basically instant messaging between cell phones. Nowauays
many, if not most, young people piefei instant oi text messaging to othei foims of
communication, anu can even feel awkwaiu oi out of touch without it. Insteau of
long letteis, oi the auial oi visual connection of telephone oi face-to-face
communication, theii uefault methou of communication involves fluiiies of shoit,
text-baseu messages (auuio, images, anu even hypeitext can be incluueu). It is easy
to see why it is a favoiite: the messages can be ieau iight away oi saveu foi latei, aie
sent anu ieceiveu neaily immeuiately, anu uistance is no baiiiei. But most
impoitantly, it is what these young people giew up with. It is not seen as an
impiovement ovei othei technology, but iathei othei technology is seen as stougy
anu slow compaieu to the usual instant convenience. In this way, what staiteu as an
auuition to Inteinet-baseu technology has effecteu a peimanent change in the
minuset anu behavioi of the geneiation who giew up nevei knowing the olu, but
embiacing the new.

Ceitainly one of the most populai ways that young people use the Inteinet is
to inteiact with otheis, especially theii peeis. This is eviuenceu by the pieviously
mentioneu massive populaiity of instant messaging applications, anu by iapiu
giowth of social netwoiking websites ovei the last few yeais. Tiauing instant
messaging "scieen names" is a common auuition oi ieplacement to the oluei
exchange of phone numbeis, anu with social netwoiking websites such as the
ubiquitous Facebook stoiing this contact infoimation anu moie, many young people
aie foiegoing the exchange altogethei anu simply iequesting that theii new
acquaintance "fiienu" them.

Some ciitics of socialization on the Inteinet have ueciieu it as impeisonal
anu lacking the benefits of "ieal life" face-to-face socialization. This is often heaiu in
conveisation oi in passing, anu iaiely backeu up by any eviuence. 0ne may pass it
off, as youth aie no uoubt pione to uo, as stanuaiu neophobic "back in my uay"
piattle, but it is an inteiesting topic which is not possible to settle without seiious
thought anu ieseaich. Inueeu, a iecent stuuy founu that the use of the Inteinet foi
inteipeisonal communication actually can have a negative impact on the quality of a
peison's life, while fiequently inteiacting with fiienus anu family face-to-face has a
positive effect on a peison's quality of life(Lee et al. ). Bowevei, this is not to say that
these kinus of social inteiactions online aie inheiently bau. Nany people use the
Inteinet to communicate with fiienus anu family who aie too fai away to feasibly
talk to face-to-face, oi to meet new fiienus, whom they then inteiact with in peison.
A look at the use of the Facebook uioups application among college stuuents shows
that many stuuents use Facebook as a means to finu anu oiganize meetings oi
paities(Paik, Kee anu valenzuela 729-7SS). 0thei ieseaich into how young people
use the Inteinet shows that those who aie moie extioveiteu aie moie likely to use
the Inteinet in a way that positively integiates with othei activities in theii
life(Tosun anu Lajunen 4u1-4u6). This ieseaich seems to inuicate that the Inteinet
on its own is not enough to sustain healthy social inteiactions, but foi those who aie
alieauy socially active outsiue of the Inteinet, it can pioviue a goou augmentation to
theii social lives.

But this is not the only way that young people use the Inteinet. Foi
extioveits anu those whose favoiite online activities aie socially baseu (such as
social netwoiking oi instant messaging), the Inteinet seems to be mostly an
extension of the iest of theii life, a convenient anu poweiful social tool. But foi those
who aie less extioveiteu, the Inteinet may be moie like a sepaiate woilu. It has
been shown that auolescents who possess ceitain mental tiaits aie often uiawn to
the Inteinet foi its anonymity anu social expectations, which uiffei fiom ieal-life
inteiactions. 0ne of these tiaits, known in the psychological stuuy as "neuioticism"
(useu in a uiffeient sense than the mental illness), is a peisonality tiait that involves
shyness, susceptibility to stiess anu anxiety, anu an inclination to peiceive things as
thieatening oi pioblematic. These people aie likely to piefei online inteiaction to
face-to-face inteiaction uue to the lack of social cues anu the ability to choose when
to senu anu ieceive messages(Tosun anu Lajunen 4u1-4u6). Anothei of these tiaits
is known as "psychoticism" (also not useu to mean that type of mental illness).
Inuiviuuals with this tiait tenu to be moie solitaiy, insensitive to otheis, anu to
uisiegaiu social conventions. In the case of auolescents with eithei oi both of these
tiaits, ieseaich has shown that one of the ieasons they aie attiacteu to the Inteinet
is because of theii uesiie to expiess theii "tiue selves" while iemaining anonymous,
something they coulu not uo in face-to-face inteiactions. Foi people who aie shy oi
who uo not want many ieal-life social inteiactions, this seems like it may be a goou
thing. The Inteinet can pioviue a venue foi them to expiess themselves fieely to
otheis, thanks to the veil of anonymity. Bowevei, the same stuuy founu that those
with "neuiotic" peisonalities show no inclination towaiu "haimonious passion" foi
Inteinet activities. In auuition, those with "psychotic" peisonalities seem likely to
uevelop both "haimonious passion" anu "obsessive passion" foi Inteinet activities.
In the stuuy, "haimonious passion" was useu to inuicate that theii use of the
Inteinet is positively integiateu into theii lives, anu "obsessive passion" was useu to
inuicate that theii use of the Inteinet is unhealthily involveu in theii lives. Foi those
with "psychotic" tiaits, the inclination to expiess theii tiue selves uiives both types
of passion(Tosun anu Lajunen 4u1-4u6). This seems to suggest that young people
who aie not alieauy inclineu to social activity (those with "neuiotic" oi "psychotic"
peisonality tiaits) aie not helpeu by the suiiogation of online inteiactions. In the
case of those with "neuiotic" tiaits, the Inteinet appeais not to appeal to them
enough, anu they uo not uevelop a passion foi online activities as much as otheis.
Foi those with "psychotic" tiaits, the Inteinet seems to have a lot of appeal, which,
unfoitunately, can leau to obsession.

Theie is even moie eviuence to suppoit the hypothesis that social Inteinet
use is not coiielateu with unhealthy social lives outsiue the Inteinet. A stuuy of
loneliness anu Inteinet use shows that those whose favoiite online activities aie
social netwoiking oi instant messaging, both inheiently social activities, aie not
unhealthily lonely any moie than aveiage, wheieas those whose favoiite activity is
stieaming oi uownloauing movies anu music uo exhibit loneliness significantly
moie fiequently than aveiage(Kim, LaRose anu Peng 4S1-4SS). As suggesteu befoie,
howevei, this also connects intioveision anu Inteinet use in a negative way. This
uoes not imply any causal ielationship, though, so it is not immeuiately cleai
whethei the high use of nonsocial online activities is the ieason they aie lonely, oi if
those who aie lonely favoi nonsocial activities foi the same ieasons theii offline
social lives aie unhealthy. The stuuy uoes pioviue some insight in suggesting that
inuiviuuals who aie psychosocially unhealthy not only have uifficulty managing
theii social lives offline, but have uifficulty iegulating theii Inteinet use, which in
tuin causes auuitional pioblems in theii lives, peihaps uiiving them to tuin to theii
favoiite online activities in a vicious ciicle of psychological unhealthiness.

So while social Inteinet use seems to be easily integiateu into healthy social lives,
nonsocial use is cleaily coiielateu with unhealthy social lives. But the Inteinet uoes
not know bounus that oiuinaiy social lives know. While social netwoiking is most
often baseu on physical ties, theie aie many venues in which inuiviuuals can
socialize with otheis who they have nevei met, anu will likely nevei meet, in the
offline woilu. Bow uo these "semi-social" activities, such as paiticipating in chat
iooms, foiums, oi playing multiplayei games wheie chatting is common, affect the
social health of the paiticipants. 0ne of the key ieasons that people favoi Nassively
Nultiplayei 0nline Role-Playing uames (NN0RPus) is the social inteiaction(Yee
Su9). Playeis often spenu significant amounts of time on such games without
actually completing any game objectives, but simply conveising anu otheiwise
inteiacting with othei playeis, whethei they aie acquainteu with them oi not. The
question is how this type of inteiaction, which is social but uoes not involve any
peisonal face-to-face inteiaction, affects the paiticipants compaieu to tiauitional
offline inteiaction. A stuuy of the enoimously populai Woilu of Waiciaft NN0RPu
sought to ueteimine the effects of in-game social suppoit anu offline social suppoit
on psychological health. The paiticipants in the stuuy weie bioken uown into high-
use anu low-use categoiies. The high-use gioup hau significantly highei levels of
negative psychological symptoms than the low-use gioup, although once again theie
is no ueteimination of a causal ielationship(Longman, 0'Connoi anu 0bst S6S-S66).
The inuiviuuals in this gioup may have pioblems in theii lives that stem fiom theii
high use of Woilu of Waiciaft, oi they may play the game so much to escape the
pioblems that weie alieauy piesent in theii lives. Anothei inteiesting finuing fiom
this stuuy is that in the low-use gioup, only offline social suppoit was founu to
significantly affect negative psychological symptoms. That is, online social suppoit
uiu not ielate to bettei oi woise psychological health, but offline social suppoit was
coiielateu with lowei negative psychological symptoms.

Taken togethei, these stuuies uo seem to show a pattein. Real-life inteiaction
is key to having a healthy social, anu thus a healthy psychological, life. Foi extioveits
(who aie alieauy focuseu on social inteiaction), the Inteinet is easily integiateu into
theii lives, anu pioviues a tool foi them to extenu theii social lives. Foi non-
extioveits, the situation is less cleai. Those who have unhealthy social lives often
seem to have highei Inteinet use, anu if those online activities aie also nonsocial,
the likelihoou of them having an unhealthy social life seems even gieatei. Foi those
who can maintain a healthy social life, Inteinet use seems to be a null factoi. It is
simply a pait of the lives of young people nowauays, anu while it has ceitainly
changeu the ways in which they inteiact, in geneial it uoesn't appeai to cause any
significant changes in theii social patteins. Young people with healthy social lives
will use the Inteinet to be social anu extenu theii offline social lives, anu young
people with unhealthy social lives will use the Inteinet to avoiu social inteiaction oi
engage in unhealthy inteiaction, just as they uo in theii offline social lives. Bowevei,
theie is an impoitant question about othei ways that unhealthy Inteinet use can
affect young people.


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Foi some of those who use the Inteinet veiy often, it piesents a uangeious
path. While it is uncleai if Inteinet use causes pioblems in these peoples' lives oi if
they simply use the Inteinet like anything else to escape theii pioblems, many
stuuies have suggesteu that such use can leau to unhealthily obsessive behavioi.
This is no tiivial possibility, anu the topic has gaineu a lot of attention iecently. The
iuea of "Inteinet auuiction" was quickly iecognizeu as a ieal issue, anu theie aie
many questions about who is in uangei of succumbing to it anu why.

Like any topic of stuuy that is just beginning to be unueistoou, the name anu
uefinition of Inteinet auuiction vaiies slightly fiom souice to souice. Some have
calleu it Inteinet auuiction uisoiuei, otheis use the teims "pathological Inteinet
use" oi "high Inteinet uepenuency"(Byun et al. 2uS-2u7). The uefinitions given by
vaiious stuuies also vaiy slightly, but all essentially compaie it to any othei type of
auuiction. Note that this uefinition uoes not necessaiily incluue the iiiesistible
compulsive foice often associateu with auuiction, especially physical auuiction. A
useful uefinition of auuiction with iegaius to psychological anu social health is that
"an inuiviuual is auuicteu when an inuiviuual's psychological state, which incluues
both mental anu emotional states, as well as theii scholastic, occupational anu social
inteiactions, is impaiieu by the oveiuse of the meuium."(Beaiu 7) Nost of the talk
about Inteinet auuiction centeis on auolescents anu young auults, mainly those in
high school anu college. These gioups aie notoiious foi theii compaiatively high
Inteinet use alieauy, so it makes sense that they woulu be most likely to uisplay
symptoms of obsessive use. Inueeu, stuuies suggest that the occuiience of Inteinet
auuiction in the population as a whole ianges fiom u.S% to 1%(Lam et al. SS1-SSS),
wheieas the occuiience among auolescents anu young auults ianges fiom S.8% to
1u% oi moie, uepenuing on the countiy anu specific age gioup
suiveyeu(uhassemzaueh, Shahiaiay anu Noiaui 7S1-7SS; Ni et al. S27-SSu).
Inteinet auuiction seems to be especially pievalent among college stuuents, anu
theie is some eviuence to suppoit the contention that the college lifestyle leaus
stuuents towaiu pioblematic Inteinet use. Foi example, a stuuy of college fieshmen
in China founu that 6.44% of the stuuents exhibiteu Inteinet auuiction, wheieas a
stuuy of college stuuents of all levels in China founu a 1u.S1% pievalence(Ni et al.
S27-SSu; Wu anu Zhu 1S6S). The stuuy among fieshmen also founu a coiielation
between Inteinet auuiction anu stuuents majoiing in technical sciences, which may
be because these stuuents aie moie likely to be heavy Inteinet useis in the fiist
place.

0thei links anu iisk factois foi Inteinet auuiction have also been stuuieu. A
stuuy of 1618 auolescents founu foui significant iisk factois, namely being male,
uiinking, uissatisfaction with family life, anu iecent expeiience of a stiessful
event(Lam et al. SS1-SSS). These iisk factois uo sheu some light on what may cause
oi be ielateu to Inteinet auuiction; they point towaiu a common anu well-known
pioblem souice: stiess. Biinking among auolescents has been iuentifieu as
significantly ielateu to stiess, especially among young males(Pohoiecky 4S8), anu
stiess is a known iisk factoi foi auuiction to substances(Sinha ). This infoimation
inuicates that while theie may be auuitional factois involveu in the piopensity
towaiu Inteinet auuiction (such as majoiing in a technical science), the heait of the
mattei is that Inteinet auuiction is veiy much like an auuiction to any othei activity
oi substance. It is not a special piopeity of the Inteinet that is causing this auuiction,
but likely the stiess that these stuuents aie expeiiencing is uiiving them to seek
iefuge by escaping into the online woilu, a woilu that, unlike most uiugs, is familiai
to them, anu legal foi them to use.

The consequences of Inteinet auuiction aie veiy similai to that of any othei
auuiction, wheie obsessive use can affect eveiy pait of the auuicteu inuiviuual's life.
In a stuuy of Inteinet auuiction among uieek auolescents, the majoiity of auuicteu
inuiviuuals aumitteu to jeopaiuizing oi iisking the loss of a significant ielationship,
job, euucational, oi caieei oppoitunity, as well as staying online longei than
intenueu anu lying to otheis to conceal theii involvement with the Inteinet(Siomos
et al. 6SS-6S7). In auuition, Inteinet auuiction is moie uifficult to uiscovei than
othei haimful activities. With most high school anu college stuuents using
computeis foi both woik anu iecieation, theie may be no noticeable uiffeience
between a woik-oiienteu stuuent getting aheau in his stuuies anu ielaxing at night
anu a stuuent who cannot contiol his use of the Inteinet anu is neglecting his woik
anu social life.


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The Inteinet is a univeise iich in infoimation; it is, aftei all, sometimes
iefeiieu to as the "infoimation supeihighway". 0ften it seems as though one coulu
finu liteially anything, anu inueeu punching one's queiy into uoogle iaiely
uisappoints. Reviews of a iecent bestsellei, analysis of a chess game, the latest
publisheu miciobiology stuuies, anu a beginnei's couise on calculus aie all available
easily anu quickly on the Inteinet, among many, many othei things. So with all this
infoimation out theie, one woulu imagine that the Inteinet woulu be a huge boon to
schools, boosting test scoies anu the geneial level of knowleuge among stuuents
aiounu the woilu. Bowevei, unsuipiisingly, theie is also a huge amount of comics,
viueos, games anu music - things young people woulu much iathei spenu theii time
on than school assignments. So as touay's schoolchiluien anu univeisity stuuents
make the age-olu uecision between woik anu play, it iemains to be seen if they aie
using the Inteinet to ieseaich anu leain, oi if it is to be tieateu, like television, as a
mostly non-euucational uistiaction.

To begin with, theie aie many euucatois who iecognize the potential foi
using the Inteinet to help teach anu leain. College piofessois often have theii own
websites, with links to theii ieseaich oi othei woik in theii fielu anu pages foi theii
cuiient anu past couises that stuuents can biowse to see the couise syllabus,
assignments, etc. In auuition, many colleges have online teaching aius such as
Woicestei Polytechnic Institute's myWPI website, which uses the Blackboaiu
platfoim to pioviue piofessois, stuuents, anu TAs with bulletins, couise iesouices,
foiums, quizzes, file submission, access to giaues, anu moie.

The scope of the Inteinet's acauemic use isn't just foi ieseaich anu
supplemental couise infoimation, eithei. Entiie couises aie now fiequently offeieu
online, with little oi no offline inteiaction at all. In fact, suiveys show that online
couise iegistiation has been steauily climbing, with 9.6% of post-seconuaiy
stuuents in the 0S taking at least one couise online in 2uu2 giowing to an
astonishing 2S.S% in 2uu8(Allen anu Seaman S).

It is easy to see why this numbei is going up in such a uiamatic way; theie
aie many attiactions to online leaining. 0nline couises iequiie no physical space,
allowing stuuents to take the couise fiom anywheie in the woilu. This saves an
enoimous amount of money on piopeity (oi ient) anu tiavel costs, making it
financially supeiioi to tiauitional classiooms foi both stuuents anu euucational
institutions. Stuuents can also leain on theii own time, eliminating the uieaueu
couise scheuuling conflict. In auuition, essentially any numbei of stuuents can be
eniolleu in a single couise, although if the instiuctois wish to have inteiactive
sessions oi fully accommouate stuuents' questions anu neeu foi help, auuitional
instiuctois oi teaching assistants may be necessaiy. These online lessons can even
help eagei leaineis not eniolleu in the couise (if the institution is feeling geneious,
that is). Foi example, the lectuies fiom Stanfoiu 0niveisity's CS19SP class, a couise
on iPhone uevelopment, weie all put on the couise website anu iTunes by the
univeisity foi anyone to uownloau. The piofessois anu TAs uiu not take questions
fiom anyone outsiue the 0niveisity, but the lectuie viueos on theii own weie an
effective (anu fiee!) leaining tool foi anyone wanting to leain about iPhone
uevelopment.

With so many cleai benefits compaieu to tiauitional classioom leaining, the
ciitical question aiises: how well uo stuuents leain in online couise enviionments.
The answei, as expecteu, is complicateu. Since online leaining is ielatively new,
theie isn't an enoimous bouy of liteiatuie oi stuuies on the subject, anu what uoes
exist often uses uiffeiing uefinitions anu methous. Also challenging is the fact that
uiffeient online couises aie conuucteu in uiffeient ways, with vaiying amounts anu
types of mateiial anu vaiying levels of inteiactivity (both between stuuents anu the
softwaie anu between stuuents anu the instiuctois). So fai theie have been effoits
to look at vaiious online leaining components anu ueteimine theii usefulness, but
no ieal infoimation on how an entiiely online couise compaies to a tiauitional
couise. Although with the many uiffeient ways a couise can be conuucteu both
online anu physically, peihaps that task is too bioau to be eithei plausible oi useful.
Peihaps the best way foiwaiu is to ueteimine what elements of online leaining aie
most useful anu to integiate those with the most useful tiauitional elements. In any
case, this is what many stuuies aie attempting to leain, anu piobably what most
schools aie auopting anyway.

0ne stuuy compellingly suggests that stuuents' leaining styles can affect how
useful online leaining enviionments aie to them(Zhan, Xu anu Ye 961-968).
Pievious ieseaich into stuuents' leaining styles has yielueu the Feluei-Silveiman
mouel as an accepteu notion of uiffeient ways in which stuuents leain. Pait of this
mouel is the contiast between active anu ieflective leaineis. Active leaineis tenu to
leain bettei by attempting to use theii new knowleuge in some way, wheieas
ieflective leaineis like to think foi a while befoie tiying out the new iuea(Feluei ).
This pait of the leaining style mouel has been consiueieu to have a laige effect on a
stuuent's collaboiative leaining, anu the stuuy in question sought to ueteimine how
an online collaboiative leaining enviionment affecteu stuuents' peifoimance with
iegaius to theii active oi ieflective leaining style. In the stuuy, some stuuents in a
noimal face-to-face class weie askeu (as pait of theii giaue) to paiticipate in an
online uiscussion aftei class, while otheis weie askeu (also as pait of theii giaue) to
stuuy inuiviuually oi paiticipate in a face-to-face uiscussion. At the enu of the class
the stuuents woulu be testeu (with a noimal class test) to juuge how well they
leaineu the mateiial. The hypotheses of this stuuy weie: that stuuents with a
ieflective leaining style woulu peifoim significantly bettei if they weie in the online
collaboiation than offline, anu that stuuents with an active leaining style woulu
peifoim significantly bettei in the offline collaboiation than online. This is because
the online collaboiation woulu allow the ieflective leaineis some time to think
about the mateiial, wheieas the offline collaboiation oi inuiviuual leaining woulu
allow active leaineis to tiy out theii new knowleuge immeuiately.

The iesults of this stuuy aie inteiesting. As hypothesizeu, the ieflective
leaineis peifoimeu significantly bettei when they useu the online collaboiation.
Bowevei, the seconu hypothesis was iefuteu with an opposite effect. The active
leaineis, too, peifoimeu bettei when involveu in the online collaboiation. The
authois go on to suggest that the online collaboiation seems to be a goou way to
meuiate uiscussion between stuuents anu instiuctois.

Anothei stuuy of a hybiiu teaching methou stuuieu a class in which lectuies
weie ueliveieu online, anu uuiing class houis stuuents paiticipateu in "active
leaining sessions" to ieinfoice the mateiial. The class mateiial anu exams weie
matcheu to the same couise given the pievious yeai in oiuei to ueteimine the
efficacy of this hybiiu teaching style. The stuuy founu that the sections using the
online lectuie ueliveiy hau significantly highei quiz anu test scoies than those with
the tiauitional classlectuie layout(Lancastei, NcQueeney anu van Ambuigh 2S-
29). This seems to make sense, because the stuuents essentially ieceiveu extia
instiuction via the online lectuies. In auuition to the exeicises they peifoimeu in
class, they hau the luxuiy of ieviewing the lectuies whenevei they wanteu, howevei
many times they wanteu. This is anothei cleai benefit ovei tiauitional classes. In
oiuei to stuuy at home, stuuents woulu noimally take notes uuiing lectuies. It is not
only uifficult to copy exactly what the piofessoi says anu means, but taking notes
can also uistiact the stuuent fiom paits of the lectuie anu fiom consiueiing what the
piofessoi is tiying to get acioss at the time.

0nline leaining is only in its infancy, anu as it becomes moie populai (which
it unuoubteuly will, thanks to its many benefits) theie will be moie ieseaich to help
ueteimine its tiue stiengths anu weaknesses compaieu to tiauitional leaining.
Bowevei, online couises aie not the only way the Inteinet is affecting stuuents'
acauemics. 0sing the Inteinet as a tool foi noimal classes anu the Inteinet's function
as an enteitainment pioviuei both seem likely to have an impact on stuuents'
peifoimance anu leaining at almost all giaue levels.

Nany suiveys anu stuuies confiim what intuitively seems obvious: most
stuuents think the Inteinet helps them with acauemics, anu inueeu it uoes - when
they use it foi ieseaich. A 2uu1 suivey iepoiteu that 78% of those suiveyeu who
weie ageu 12-17 thought that the Inteinet helpeu them at school; somewhat
suipiisingly, 87% of theii paients agieeu. 94% of the auolescents saiu they useu the
Inteinet foi school ieseaich at some point(Lenhait, Lewis anu Rainie ). These
numbeis aie fiom 2uu1; Inteinet use has seen an enoimous inciease since then,
suggesting that the vast majoiity of stuuents in this age iange ceitainly must use the
Inteinet foi school touay. A laige stuuy of ovei 18,uuu stuuents at 71 colleges anu
univeisities acioss the 0S founu that suifing the Inteinet foi couise mateiial hau
positive effects on both intellectual uevelopment anu vocational piepaiation (Kuh &
Bu 2uu1). Anothei stuuy among miuule-school stuuents in Taiwan founu that
stuuents who useu the Inteinet to seaich foi infoimation hau significantly highei
high school entiance exam scoies than those who uiu not(Chen anu Fu 797).

Contiaiiwise, a seemingly opposite intuitive assumption is also suppoiteu.
The same stuuy founu that playing online games hau a significant negative effect on
boys' acauemic peifoimance, as uiu Inteinet use foi chatting anu socializing on giils'
acauemic peifoimance(Chen anu Fu 797). Theie aie othei stuuies suppoiting these
positive anu negative effects of Inteinet use, but fiankly it seems that they only
seive to confiim something that is alieauy cleai: stuuents who spenu moie time
stuuying anu ieseaiching get bettei giaues than stuuents who spenu moie time
playing games anu socializing. What is neeueu is a stuuy that looks at Inteinet
access anu use in geneial anu coiielates it to stuuents' giaues anu test scoies. This is
the only way to finu out if Inteinet use on the whole has a ieal effect on stuuents'
acauemic peifoimance.

Such a stuuy was conuucteu among low-income families in Nichigan between
Becembei 2uuu anu }une 2uu2. The aveiage age of the stuuents was 1S.8 yeais, the
aveiage uPA 2.u, theii aveiage stanuaiuizeu testing scoies weie aiounu the Su
th

peicentile, anu the meuian annual income foi theii householus was $1S,uuu oi less.
This was a gioup that was consistently peifoiming below aveiage acauemically, anu
the iuea was to see if Inteinet use hau an effect on theii peifoimance. Theii home
Inteinet use was iecoiueu foi 16 months, with no special iegaiu as to what type of
use it was. The finuings showeu that those stuuents who useu the Inteinet foi moie
time hau significantly highei uPAs anu scoies on stanuaiuizeu tests of ieauing anu
compiehension aftei 6 months, 1 yeai, anu 16 months, than those who useu the
Inteinet less (}ackson et al. 2uu6). The ieseaicheis concluueu that Inteinet use may
have affecteu these stuuents' acauemics because it causeu them to ieau moie than
they otheiwise woulu.

A similai 2-yeai stuuy was conuucteu (also in Nichigan) anu publisheu in
2u1u, which sought, among othei things, to ueteimine the links between Inteinet
use anu acauemic peifoimance without iegaiu to factois such as the financial oi
social stanuing of the stuuents. The finuings of this stuuy weie consistent with the
pieviously mentioneu stuuy. Stuuents with below aveiage ieauing skills showeu a
uiiect coiielation between Inteinet use anu acauemic peifoimance: the moie they
useu the Inteinet, the highei theii peifoimance. Stuuents with aveiage ieauing
skills also showeu impiovement with Inteinet use, but not as maikeu an inciease,
anu only in the seconu yeai of the stuuy. Stuuents with above aveiage ieauing skills
weie neithei positively noi negatively affecteu by theii Inteinet use, whethei high
oi low(}ackson et al. 228-2S9).

The finuings of these last two stuuies aie paiticulaily inteiesting. While it
seems that, in geneial, Inteinet use pei se has little effect on stuuents' acauemics, it
uoes facilitate fiequent ieauing, which can help stuuents who have weak ieauing
skills. This may be a faiily impoitant point, since the only conceivable way to
inciease ieauing skill is to ieau moie, anu stuuents with low ieauing skills aie less
likely to ieau books oi magazines foi pleasuie than those who aie alieauy pioficient
at ieauing anu compiehension.

"""; @=:',9 ?,#9=##,%-

Scientific stuuies aie excellent foi examining the quantitative ielationships
anu effects of Inteinet usage, as Inteinet use aiounu the woilu continues to inciease,
people aie becoming become moie anu moie inteiesteu in the qualitative analysis of
oui Inteinet use. Science can help in this too, as theie aie ways to tianslate
qualitative assessments into numbeis, but this must still be baseu on questions anu
answeis that the ieseaichei has pie-ueteimineu. Theie is no way to peifoim a
scientific analysis anu finu the mean of 1uu fiee-answei essays on how the Inteinet
has affecteu one's life. This leaves a lot of uiscussions anu uebates to be hau acioss a
bioau iange of topics, some of which have piqueu the public's inteiest anu gaineu
quite a lot of attention.

Any new technology is inventeu to ieplace, at least in pait, some olu
technology. The techniques involveu in using the new technology often uiffei fiom
the olu techniques, anu if the invention becomes populai enough, the olu techniques
tenu to become lost oi ielegateu to an antiquaiian minoiity. The Inteinet is no
exception, anu while the technologies that it coulu potentially ieplace aie numeious,
the techniques involveu in using the Inteinet uo not vaiy as much as those useu
with the olu technologies. The Inteinet lenus itself to be useu in ceitain ways, such
as skimming seaich iesults foi infoimation, clicking links that take you away fiom
the cuiient page, anu watching oi listening to meuia insteau of just ieauing.
Ceitainly, the Inteinet is a moie inteiactive anu fast-paceu meuium than books,
magazines, viueo, oi auuio alone. While some see this as a gieat featuie, allowing
one to leain anu accomplish moie in a shoitei amount of time than pieviously
possible, otheis have taken a step back fiom the immeuiate use of online iesouices
anu askeu how it is affecting people in theii uaily lives. Bumans aie exceptional at
auaptation, fiequently anu iathei quickly attempting to optimize themselves foi
theii enviionment. So as the Inteinet (anu the uevices useu to connect to it) aie
useu moie fiequently by moie people, some aie wonueiing if theie aie hiuuen
uiawbacks luiking behinu the obvious auvantages this technology pioviues.

In his aiticle "Is uoogle Naking 0s Stupiu." in !"# %&'()&*+, Nicholas Caii
aigues that theie aie such uiawbacks, anu that he anu otheis have seen them in
theii lives. Though not a scientific stuuy, Caii's aiticle contains peisuasive anecuotal
eviuence that seems to make sense, anu the aiticle was veiy wiuely ieau, eliciting
many iesponses both agieeing anu uisagieeing with him. In it he uesciibes how he
feels his mental capacities aie changing (ostensibly foi the woise) anu how his use
of the Inteinet has likely inuuceu this change. Be explains how he cannot seem to
ieau a book as he was once able to, scanning pages oi ieauing shoit amounts at a
time insteau of becoming immeiseu in the pages foi houis. "0nce I was a scuba
uivei in the sea of woius," he says, "Now I zip along the suiface like a guy on a }et
Ski." (Caii ). Be also notes that many fiienus anu colleagues to whom he has
mentioneu this aie feeling the same way.

Bis explanation is that the way meuia is stiuctuieu on the Inteinet lenus
itself to a skimming, bite-size style of ieauing. It is easy to see how useful the
Inteinet is (Caii mentions this as well) foi finuing facts anu minutiae, but Caii
aigues that his fiequent use of the Inteinet in this way has inhibiteu his ability to
think ueeply anu concentiate when ieauing, whethei online oi otheiwise. Be also
points to hypeilinks as a cause of fiactuieu ieauing online. These links point to
(usually) ielateu mateiial, but following them bieaks the flow of thought fiom the
cuiient page. What's moie, these links often point to mateiial that the ieauei must
be at least familiai with befoie continuing to ieau that page. Caii makes the
compaiison that "unlike footnotes . hypeilinks uon't meiely point to ielateu woiks;
they piopel you towaiu them." This is an inteiesting uynamic of online meuia that is
not piesent in othei meuia.

Caii is not alone in his ciitique of the online lifestyle; an aiticle in !"# ,#-
./01 !*2#3 looks at a man with similai woes. It uesciibes him as constantly
connecteu, with uigital uistiactions causing him to foiget things like uinnei plans
anu have tiouble focusing. Bis wife says that "it seems like he can no longei be fully
in the moment."(Richtel 1). The aiticle suggests that skimming anu clicking online
"play to a piimitive impulse to iesponu to immeuiate oppoitunities anu thieats"
which geneiates stimulation anu excitement. It also mentions that the multitasking
that is common when using Inteinet biowseis, chat clients, anu connecteu
smaitphones fiactuies the thinking piocess even when away fiom these things. The
aiticle goes on to piopose that constant use of the Inteinet can cause even gieatei
pioblems than Caii's uifficulty ieauing. It pioviues examples such as a husbanu
spenuing houis a uay away fiom his wife on theii seconu honeymoon, using the
Inteinet connection in the hotel they weie staying at insteau. Anothei example
uesciibes a stuuent who ieceiveu his fiist C in high school anu blames his acauemic
uowntuin on the uistiactions of uigital uevices, most of which involve the Inteinet.

The aiticle uoes pioviue some ieasons why being constantly connecteu may
affect people significantly, anu why it is uifficult foi people to simply ignoie the
uistiactions that come with this connection. It consults a ieseaichei who uesigneu a
stuuy to ueteimine how non-ciitical infoimation is ieceiveu by people who
fiequently multitaskeu using technology veisus those who uo not. Be founu that
those who multitaskeu hau a haiuei time ignoiing unnecessaiy infoimation, which
might explain why those same people aie often uistiacteu by emails, tweets, blog
posts, anu othei Inteinet meuia. The aiticle also mentions a stuuy that founu that
people who aie inteiiupteu by email felt moie stiess than those who weie left to
concentiate without uistiaction. Anothei stuuy linkeu stiess hoimones to ieuuceu
shoit-teim memoiy. All of this put togethei foims a ieasonable aigument that
Inteinet-connecteu technology can veiy likely take a toll on useis' lives, even if they
tiy to stay focuseu.

Some also feai that, as with many things ielateu to technology, these effects
aie hitting the youngei geneiation the haiuest. Anothei aiticle in !"# ,#- ./01
!*2#3, coming fiom the same seiies as the pievious aiticle, focuses specifically on
seconuaiy school stuuents anu how the use of new technology affects them. Entitleu
"uiowing 0p Bigital, Wiieu Foi Bistiaction", the aiticle uesciibes pioblems similai
to the aiticles pieviously mentioneu, anu comes to similai conclusions about the
oiigins of these pioblems as well. It fiist uesciibes vishal, 17-yeai olu high school
who will be enteiing his senioi yeai. Although "seveial teacheis call |himj one of
theii biightest stuuents," his giaues have been uiopping iecently, anu even though
theie is only one uay until school begins again, he has not even come close to
completing his only summei homewoik assignment(Richtel 1). The last semestei he
was in school, he ieceiveu a B-plus in English anu an F in Algebia II, anu his teacheis
"wonuei why things aie not auuing up." vishal himself aumits that he lacks the self-
contiol neeueu to concentiate on schoolwoik insteau of biowsing Facebook oi
YouTube, explaining that "a book takes so long. I piefei the immeuiate
giatification." The aiticle goes on to give seveial othei examples of stuuents who
cannot contiol theii impulses to biowse the web, check e-mail, anu otheiwise
uistiact themselves with technology. It is well known that the biain is veiy
malleable befoie auulthoou, anu the aiticle pioposes that the fiequent use of such
fast-paceu, always-connecteu uevices can wiie one's minu, especially at a young age,
to become "habituateu to uistiaction anu to switching tasks, not to focus."

The focal points of the aiticles that wain against the pitfalls of an
incieasingly "connecteu" woilu aie veiy similai. They all claim that a fast-paceu,
always-online lifestyle with little uowntime causes one to become accustomeu to
constant task-switching anu instant giatification, anu to become less able to
concentiate on a single subject foi long peiious of time. They all pioviue peisuasive
eviuence thiough anecuotes fiom suffeiing technophiles anu ieseaich that shows
how the biain can be molueu subconsciously. But, as expecteu, not eveiybouy is
convinceu. Some aigue that alaims aie sounueu eveiy time things change, anu this
is no uiffeient, while otheis aie embiacing the changes anu believe that uoogle is
making us smait, not stupiu.

0ne yeai aftei Nicholas Caii's "Is uoogle Naking 0s Stupiu." aiticle appeaieu
in !"# %&'()&*+, the same magazine piinteu }amais Cascio's suggestion that we "uet
Smaitei." In pait a ieply to Caii's aiticle, Cascio speaks of this new technology, all
linkeu togethei by the Inteinet, as a catalyst foi oui intelligence anu capabilities to
giow. As foi the baiiage of emails, blog posts, tweets, anu instant messages that
otheis finu uistiacting anu oveiwhelming, Cascio simply says that "it's easy to
mistake moie voices foi moie noise."(Cascio ). Be aigues that meuia anu technology
of the past has maue us smaitei, not uumbei, anu that we aie much moie tuneu
touay foi a kinu of thinking that scientists call "fluiu intelligence". This involves the
ability to make connections anu see patteins, anu Cascio holus that even mouein Tv
shows anu viueo games aie filleu with uetail anu subtle connections, iewaiuing anu
honing oui ability to iecognize these things. Cascio is a stiong believei in the futuie
of technology, envisioning a woilu wheie the inuiviuual minu is maue moie
poweiful thiough the use of technology, anu the collective intelligence of mankinu is
expanueu using collaboiative tools, such as the common Wiki-baseu softwaie of
touay. As foi the aigument that technology useis aie oveiloaueu with infoimation,
he suggests that we meiely neeu bettei tools to manage it, saying that "uoogle isn't
the pioblem; it's the beginning of a solution."

While Cascio has gianu visions of a futuie shapeu by technology, otheis
uissent fiom Caii's aiguments in a moie piagmatic way. ,#- ./01 !*2#3 bloggei
Nick Bilton authoieu a post on !"# ,#- ./01 !*2#3 technology blog entitleu "The
Befense of Computeis, the Inteinet, anu 0ui Biains"(Bilton ), which piesents a
casually-wiitten yet convincing line against Caii's school of thought. Biawing fiom
scientists who stuuy the biain anu ieseaich on meuia, Bilton essentially aigues that
while oui biains aie ceitainly changing, they have always uone so anu the Inteinet
will have no gieatei effect on humankinu than any othei technological auvance. Be
notes that uiffeient meuia exeicise uiffeient paits of the biain, anu that the Inteinet,
with its enoimous stock of all kinus of meuia, is likely an excellent souice to fuithei
uevelop youi biain iathei than iuin it. 0ne of the scientists he cites, Piofessoi
Steven Pinkei of Baivaiu 0niveisity, wiote an 0p-Eu piece foi !"# ,#- ./01 !*2#3,
which piesents similai aiguments. Be wiites that panics such as Caii's aiticle "often
fail basic ieality checks." Be calmly uismisses the notion of technology iuining oui
thought piocesses, saying that "cognitive neuioscientists ioll theii eyes at such talk.
Yes, eveiy time we leain a fact oi skill the biain changes.but the existence of neuial
plasticity uoes not mean the biain is a blob of clay pounueu into shape by
expeiience."(Pinkei S1)

While the anecuotes about scatteibiaineu tech guius anu uistiacteu A-
stuuents gainei lots of attention, it seems that these wainings to be waiy of new
technology have come consistently thioughout the ages. The human biain will be
changeu by the auvent of Inteinet, anu like othei technology befoie it, we will likely
auapt well anu use it to piopel ouiselves foiwaiu even moie. Anu although these
aiticles weie quite populai, some ieseaich has inuicateu that most people believe
that the Inteinet will, in fact, make us smaitei. Pew Reseaich's fouith "Futuie of the
Inteinet" stuuy, conuucteu between Becembei 2uu9 anu }anuaiy 2u1u, founu that
76% of the paiticipants thought that "by 2u2u, people's use of the Inteinet has
enhanceu human intelligence.Nicholas Caii was wiong: uoogle uoes not make us
stupiu."(Anueison anu Rainie ). The Inteinet anu the technology linkeu to it aie veiy
poweiful, anu as humans become incieasingly "connecteu", speculation will tuin to
obseivation of how mankinu is changeu. It seems unlikely that people will become
"stupiuei", but veiy likely that we will lose at least some of oui skills as they aie
ieplaceu with new ones.


"A; @%',2,9*' "0B',9*2,%-#


Though the Inteinet, anu the Woilu Wiue Web in paiticulai, often seems like
a vast gaiage filleu half anu half with supeilative tools anu unkempt iubbish, one
must iemembei that it is not meiely a communal stoiage place full of statics. The
Inteinet is, at its veiy heait, a methou of communication. It is natuial to think of
instant messaging, foiums, oi email as inteipeisonal, but also each iestauiant menu,
each }ava uocumentation page, each uictionaiy entiy was put theie by a human foi
anothei human to see. As a tool foi communication, the Inteinet is cleaily supeiioi
to oluei meuia. 0nlike books oi television, any peison can get a blog oi Facebook
page oi Twittei account foi fiee anu post anything they want, as much as they want
(legal iestiictions asiue; that is a sepaiate issue anu applies to books anu television
anyway). 0nlike in letteis oi phone calls, any type of uata can be sent anu ieceiveu
on the Inteinet; a single blog post may incluue viueo, auuio, pictuie anu text. As the
Inteinet becomes moie embeuueu in moie people's lives, these people aie bettei
unueistanuing this powei that the Inteinet pioviues them with. This has leu to an
enoimous boom in the "social meuia" sectoi, which is baseu entiiely on
inteipeisonal communication, most of which woulu not be possible outsiue of the
Inteinet. Although theie aie suiely many ways in which the Inteinet has an effect on
politics, this pioject focuseu mainly on the implications of the use of social meuia.
The ieasons foi this weie twofolu: because these social meuia websites have been
giowing anu aie now veiy much a centei of attention on the Inteinet, anu because
theie aie cuiiently many ciitical events occuiiing in woilu politics in which social
meuia have been involveu in some way.

These social meuia websites all offei things that tiauitional meuia uon't.
Twittei, foi example, is the laigest anu most piominent "micioblogging" website.
Each post on Twittei is text-only. In auuition, each "tweet", as they'ie known, is
limiteu to 14u chaiacteis. This sounus a bit ouu anu iestiictive at fiist, but many
tweets have links in them to aiticles on web pages, oi auuio, viueo, pictuies oi
anything othei kinu of file. Eveiy tweet is visible by eveiy usei, although useis can
choose whose tweets they woulu like to be actively notifieu of. This foimat makes it
quick anu easy to ieau anu senu tweets fiom mobile uevices, enabling people to
easily paiticipate anywheie, anytime.

Facebook also offeis things that tiauitional meuia cannot. In fact, theie is
veiy little about Facebook that compaies uiiectly to any tiauitional meuia. Facebook
useis have a status that they can set so otheis know what's going on in theii lives
cuiiently, a "wall" theii fiienus can post on that is visible to all of theii fiienus, anu
applications to use (most fiequently games that can involve otheis). They can cieate
events anu invite people to meet up in ieal life (oi viitual ieality), they can make
public anu piivate gioups, anu show theii suppoit foi theii favoiite banu oi Tv
show by "becoming a fan". Theie is moie, anu neaily eveiything one can see anu uo
is extensively customizable.

These two supei-populai social meuia sites uon't seem to have much in
common. 0ne seems Spaitan, a shoit text-only bioaucasting seivice, anu the othei
oveiflows with options anu auuitions anu activity. Bowevei, they shaie something
veiy impoitant: the ability foi any peison to communicate with any numbei of othei
people neai-instantly, at any time, publically oi piivately. Especially impoitant is the
public pait. Social meuia gives its useis an open platfoim to say what they want, anu
easily connects them to otheis.

The powei of social meuia is so gieat that many people aie suggesting that it
has the powei to tuin a silent majoiity into a ioaiing majoiity. The teim "social
meuia ievolution", once applieu to these websites iising in populaiity, is now
applieu to populai upiisings. Recent events in Tunisia anu Egypt have many people
suggesting that Twittei, Facebook, anu blogs aie the catalysts foi ievolution, anu
even the uiiving foice behinu it. 0theis, howevei, aie asseiting that, although these
things weie useu by ievolutionaiies, they weie no moie significant to the ievolution
than megaphones oi a goou paii of shoes. Thus the question is: to what extent uiu
social meuia play a iole in the cieation of these ievolutions, anu how significant was
its iole in theii success.

It is impossible to believe that the Inteinet has no impact at all on such
ievolutions. Even the goveinments of these countiies can see this. Bloggeis have
been censoieu anu aiiesteu in countiies such as Tunisia, anu in some cases majoi
websites oi even the entiie Inteinet has been blockeu. Coiiupt goveinments such as
Tunisia's (which is now oveithiown) aie cleaily thieateneu by the fieeuom anu
wiue iange of communication that the Inteinet offeis. They aie useu to being able to
contiol what people see anu heai on Tv anu iauio, effectively blocking the spieau of
infoimation they uislike. Foi example, while iiots ian iampant in the stieets of
Tunis anu the piesiuent fleu the countiy, the official Tv channel playeu music anu
chat shows(Beaiusley ).

This feai of the Inteinet is ceitainly not unfounueu. Even though YouTube
has been banneu in Tunisia since 2uu7, technologically-skilleu activists weie
posting viueos of uemonstiations thioughout Becembei 2u1u anu }anuaiy
2u11(Listei 4). Theie is also no uenying that Facebook, Twittei, anu blogs such as A
Tunisian uiil hau an impact on infoiming the public (both in anu out of Tunisia)
about the piotests anu even on getting people involveu. While the state Tv stations
weie pietenuing nothing was going on, social meuia feu the inuepenuent Al }azeeia
station with pictuies, viueo anu news to bioaucast via satellite into Tunisia. These
tools weie useu foi moie than gatheiing public inteiest anu getting the piotests
iolling, too. Tunisians weie using Twittei uuiing uemonstiations to wain otheis of
snipei locations anu to call foi bloou uonations at hospitals, making goou use of its
cell-fiienuly platfoim(Cailson 1). Anu it isn't just Tunisians who aie making use of
this technology. Bemonstiatois in Egypt have been online as well. Nuch like in
Tunisia, the Egyptian goveinment has been aiiesting anu blocking activist bloggeis,
anu much like Tunisia, activists have been online all the moie. Foi example, a
Facebook page ueuicateu to piotests in Egypt hau ovei 8u,uuu followeis the uay
befoie the piotests weie scheuuleu(Listei anu Smith S). The uay befoie that, only
2u,uuu people hau been following it. Bow coulu it have been possible to ieach
6u,uuu people in one uay without the Inteinet. No television oi iauio station seems
likely to bioaucast the time anu place of a planneu mass anti-goveinment piotest.
The powei of these social meuia websites ceitainly auueu to the powei of the
people.

Communication anu logistics aien't the only ways that the Inteinet helpeu
these upiisings succeeu. The huge amount of attention the uemonstiatois biought
to themselves via social meuia tianslateu into tiauitional meuia coveiage. In
auuition to the pieviously mentioneu Al }azeeia coveiage, the news anu viueo
coming in fiom many paiticipants maue foi bettei anu moie plentiful mateiial than
any on-scene jouinalist coulu have pioviueu. Revolutions aie often moie uepenuent
on politics than violence, anu heavy inteinational coveiage can put piessuie on
leaueis in these situations. In Egypt, this piessuie is what leu to the success of the
ievolution. Aftei moie than two weeks of wiuespieau piotesting, the leaueiship of
the militaiy, an impoitant pait of the Egyptian goveinment, pusheu foi the
Piesiuent's iesignation. Soon aftei, they announceu that the militaiy woulu ensuie a
tiansition to civilian iule. Theie was no neeu foi a uisplay of militaiy foice, it was
the political piessuie fiom such a laige anu impoitant bianch of the goveinment
siuing with the piotesteis that leu to the Piesiuent's iesignation. Without the
extensive news coveiage of the piotests woiluwiue, one cannot say foi ceitain
whethei the ievolution woulu have gaineu enough momentum to levei such
political piessuie.

Bowevei, amiu the "Twittei Revolution" heaulines, some iepoiteis anu
scholais aie insisting that it was fiist anu foiemost a ievolution of the people, not of
the technology. They want to make suie that the human aspects, the thoughts anu
emotions that leau to such a populai upiising, uo not get lost in all the talk about
social meuia. As one on-the-scene jouinalist saiu, "This uiun't have anything to uo
with Twittei anu Facebook. This hau to uo with people's uignity.People aie not
able to feeu theii families(45(+"#' 6(77/- 3"/-4 8/0 90*7(:; <() =>&" =?@@)." Be was
iefeiiing to the cause of the upiising, the tiue ieason people weie in the stieets.
While this iepoitei went on to mention that ".Twittei anu all the social netwoiking
stuff helps", he wants to make suie that the people aie cieuiteu, anu iightfully so, foi
the iefoim. While this seems obvious, it is impoitant to keep in minu, because social
meuia anu othei Inteinet technologies aie no moie than tools that people can use.
They beai no allegiances anu aie useful to any paity who knows how to use them;
they have no pieuisposition towaiu uemociacy oi justice. Anothei wiitei states
that, "suiely the least inteiesting fact about |the Egyptian piotesteisj is that some of
the piotesteis may (oi may not) have at one point oi anothei employeu some of the
tools of the new meuia to communicate with one anothei. People piotesteu anu
biought uown goveinments befoie Facebook was inventeu.(ulauwell 1)" But, then
again, peihaps that is the veiy ieason why theii use of this meuia is inteiesting; it is
a new vaiiable in an olu equation. It is unueistanuable that these people uon't want
the plight anu the couiage of the Tunisian oi Egyptian people to be minimizeu by
the notion of social meuia toppling uictatois, anu it uoes seem unieasonable to think
that the auvent of social meuia causeu these piotests to occui oi was the ueciuing
factoi in theii success. But as tuimoil in the Niuule East giows, peihaps the tool of
social meuia is significantly helping to aim citizens with the powei they neeu to
stanu up to authoiitaiian goveinments anu coiiupt officials.

All of the attention on the impact of social meuia in countiies with populai
upiisings seems to be focuseu on these Inteinet technologies as a tool foi the public
to use in theii quest foi uemociacy anu justice. Bowevei useful social meuia may be
foi this cause, one must iealize that social meuia is not inheiently uisposeu towaiu
it. Although the public image of social meuia seems to coiielate it with the young,
libeial, activist type, it is just as easily the mouthpiece (anu heaiing aiu) of a shiewu
authoiitaiian goveinment.

Foi example, the Noith Koiean goveinment, one of the stiictest uictatoiships on the
planet, cieateu a Twittei account last }uly anu uses it to post pio-Noith Koiean news
anu infoimation. Almost no Noith Koieans have access to the Inteinet, so this
piopaganua is piobably not aimeu at them, anu the vast majoiity of people aiounu
the woilu iealize that almost anything saiu that is pio-Noith Koiea is piopaganua.
But the Noith Koiean goveinment uoesn't keep its powei by being ignoiant, anu it
has iealizeu that keeping contiol ovei the countiy's social meuia connections is
impoitant, even if the geneial public has no way to challenge it.

Now, if Noith Koieans weie to evei gain ieal access to the Inteinet, it is likely
that theii postings woulu easily uiown out the goveinment's woius. In a countiy
that is wiuely iecognizeu as a uictatoiship, the message of the people is easily
pickeu out anu suppoiteu ovei the blatant piopaganua. Anu in the case of Egypt oi
Tunisia, it is haiuly likely that staiting a Twittei account woulu have suppiesseu the
uemonstiations anu iioting. Bowevei, consiuei a goveinment such as China's,
whose image is not that of a totally coiiupt uictatoiship, noi is it a beacon of
uemociacy anu justice. Such a goveinment woulu want to ietain its powei anu keep
its citizens in check with as much tact as possible.

To this effect, China employs a gioup of people known as "Inteinet
commentatois", oi moie commonly by the pejoiative "Su Cent Paity" uue to iepoits
of the commentatois being paiu half a Yuan pei post. These people aie paiu by the
goveinment to post as iegulai useis on populai news sites anu foiums. They
geneially taiget uiscussions of political significance, anu post in such a way that it
uoes not appeai to have come fiom the goveinment. This is a cunning appioach to
piopagating state views online. If the Chinese goveinment simply maue an account
on a website (such as Noith Koiea uiu on Twittei), its opinion on political news,
howevei laige oi small, woulu essentially not mattei. This is foi a couple of ieasons.
Fiist, it is cleaily coming fiom the goveinment, anu as such, it will obviously suppoit
the goveinment's views anu iueals. People will immeuiately uismiss it as
piopaganua. Seconu, anu moie inteiesting, is that the goveinment cannot speak
canuiuly. In an aigument online, useis can say anything they want. If a usei weie to
comment on how pooily the goveinment (national oi local) hanuleu an issue, oi that
it was coiiupt, the goveinment coulu not piopel the othei siue of the aigument by
saying canuiu things such as "it is not a big issue" oi even "the goveinment uiu its
job well", because then it becomes an official statement. Foi example, if the inciuent
in question is an accusation of a biibe, the Chinese goveinment coulu haiuly stanu
to be seen simply uismissing biibes as "no big ueal". Bowevei, by paying a gioup of
people with no goveinment affiliation to say these things, anu even to attack the
oiiginal posteis (as woulu be common foi oiuinaiy useis on an Inteinet foium), the
goveinment can quell such uissiuence anu piopagate the image of a majoiity of
citizens suppoiting the goveinment anu its actions.

The success of this methou was shown in a uocument ieleaseu by the public
secuiity buieau of }iaozuo, a city in Benan piovince. An unhappy citizen posteu a
negative comment about the police online, anu within ten minutes, one of the
employeu Inteinet commentatois iepoiteu this to the buieau. The buieau then useu
ovei 12u people to post in the thieau, suppoiting the police anu even conuemning
the oiiginal postei, until eventually the majoiity of posts was in the goveinment's
favoi(Biistow 1). Though the tiue numbei of employeu "Inteinet commentatois" is
unknown, estimates iange fiom thousanus to hunuieus of thousanus. It is pievalent
enough that useis who take the Chinese goveinment's siue oi post pio-goveinment
oi pio-communist comments aie fiequently accuseu of being in the "Su cent paity"
oi "Su cent aimy". As is common on the Inteinet, it is often uifficult to tell whethei
these comments aie meant liteially, oi if they aie just ueiogative teims useu to
uemean people who aie taking the siue of the Chinese goveinment. Bowevei, since
it is also uifficult to ueteimine if a postei is genuinely expiessing his oi hei views oi
acting as an online meicenaiy, it is likely that most useis uo not caie which it is anu
aie tiying to fight piopaganua fiom any souice.

Inteiestingly, this sly technique is so much moie effective than uiiect
piomotion that it is also commonly useu in the 0niteu States. Not by the goveinment
(as fai as anyone knows), but by commeicial oiganizations. Companies will use
employees oi hiie fieelance wiiteis to post comments on foiums anu aiticles about
theii piouucts, all in the guise of a iegulai usei. Some of these aie obviously paiu
foi; otheis aie bettei ciafteu anu pass off well as a noimal peison suppoiting a
bianu they like. 0nlike goveinments, theie is geneially not such a laige public
uistiust of a company such that anyone who suppoits it is immeuiately suspicious,
which makes these online enuoiseis moie believable. Bowevei, as shown in China,
this infiltiation stiategy is a veiy effective one, anu one that uses the anonymity anu
social netwoiking of the Inteinet to gieat effect.

Theie aie unuoubteuly many ways to use the Inteinet anu social meuia to
push a goveinment (oi coipoiate) agenua in the iange between Noith Koiea's
tweets of balu-faceu piopaganua anu China's iegiment of anonymous
commentatois. The uiffeience between a social meuia ievolution anu a social meuia
uystopia lies in skill anu timing. By the time piotestois weie uniting anu calling foi
uemonstiations by the thousanus online, it was too late foi the Tunisian anu
Egyptian goveinments. They only maue theii lack of unueistanuing moie obvious by
attempting to block websites anu cut Inteinet access. The uemonstiatois hau the
skill anu willpowei necessaiy to use the online tools at theii uisposal to gain
momentum foi theii cause. Bowevei, in China, a goveinment infamous foi
committing anu then simply uenying the occuiience of human iights infiactions
uisplays similai skill in using technology to keep powei seateu fiimly in its hanus.
While neithei the fate of the Niuule East noi that of China will be ueciueu on the
uigital fiont alone, the powei of the Inteinet will be veiy valuable to those who can
effectively use it.

A; C%-9'=#,%-

Twenty yeais ago, the Inteinet was a small, cuiious computei-geek uomain
just staiting to gain some momentum with the public. Since then, it has giown to
play a majoi iole in almost eveiy aspect of society, fiom socialization anu gaming to
national secuiity anu the woilu economy. The speeu anu magnituue of this giowth
have been so gieat that fully unueistanuing the impact the Inteinet has maue is a
task nigh impossible.

The stuuies examineu by this pioject iepiesent a giowing bouy of ieseaich
on the effects of the Inteinet. Some aieas of focus, such as acauemic anu social
effects, have piouuceu iesults that seem to mostly poitiay the Inteinet as
essentially an extension of useis' lives. Those who use the Inteinet to stuuy appeai
to get bettei giaues; those who use it to play games appeai to get woise giaues.
Bowevei, the inteiactivity of Inteinet technologies has leu to situations peihaps
unfoieseen, such as the phenomenon of Inteinet auuiction. Although moie ieseaich
neeus to be conuucteu on neaily eveiy aspect of how the Inteinet affects people anu
society, scientific stuuies such as these piesent a soliu, iational way of evaluating
these effects.

The othei sections of the pioject ueal with social topics that aie not as easy to
assess anu uiaw conclusions fiom. Although theie is much uiscussion about the use
of social meuia by ievolutionaiies in the Niuule East, theie is, at least cuiiently, no
ieal way to objectively evaluate the impact this technology has hau. It seems cleai
that the ability foi anyone to make himself heaiu on a global scale shoulu empowei
the masses, but it is ceitainly uncleai whethei it can empowei them enough to uiive
goveinment-toppling ievolutions. Even if the communication powei offeieu by
these meuia is not significantly moie than that of cell phones oi othei technology,
the inspiiation that comes fiom heaiing otheis anu being heaiu coulu be enough to
biing hope anu ignite fiie in the souls of men. Peihaps this is too uiamatic, but it is
such qualities of human spiiit that science finus uifficult to evaluate, anu yet they
may play a key iole in situations of politics anu oppiession, wheie the human
psyche is as cential as militaiy fiiepowei.

The public uiscussion also placeu heavy emphasis on something science
cannot easily quantify: how people feel. Theie may be tests to evaluate how fast oi
long someone can ieau, anu how well they compiehenueu the text, but (as is
eviuenceu by the famous placebo effect) even someone thinking that they will
peifoim uiffeiently can affect the way they ieally uo peifoim. If anything, stuuies
have shown that Inteinet use helps ieauing compiehension, at least among school
chiluien. But peihaps Inteinet use, especially always-connecteu uevices such as
smaitphones, will affect the new geneiation in ways that will make them uiffei
psychologically fiom oluei geneiations. It ceitainly is tiue that people's attituues
change ovei time, anu the Inteinet plays such a big iole in young people's lives
nowauays that it is ieasonable to believe that it will have an effect on theii minus.
Simply the exposuie to such a bioauei aiiay of iueas anu expeiiences than pievious
geneiations will affect theii uevelopment.

This pioject aimeu to evaluate anu uiaw conclusions fiom scientific stuuies
on the effects of the Inteinet on the "Bigital ueneiation", as well as oiganize
uiscussions about othei effects of the Inteinet baseu on ieseaich anu seiious
aiticles fiom authois anu jouinalists. Some of these uiscussions aie topical, anu like
much on the Inteinet, may seem outuateu a yeai fiom now. But the questions aie
impoitant, anu even if the uetails aie uateu, this stuuy of how Inteinet technology
can anu uoes affect society will be useful as long as the Inteinet exists.


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