It’s really easy to look at this clip from Today’s Show in 1994 and snicker a little bit. If you’re around my age (28) you’ve grown up with the internet for most of your life, if not all of it. And many of us who read blogs, tweet, facebook etc consider ourselves to be pretty internet savvy. But, on a whole, are we really net savvy as a society?
I would say…not really. In fact, according to the NY Times a full 28% of Americans don’t use the internet at all. I grew up in a rural area and didn’t get access to internet consistently until 2000, the year I went to college. I still remember very well life without the internet–and honestly, it wasn’t all that bad.
But moving on to those who do use the internet, there’s lots of signs that “use” doesn’t equal “knowledge.” There’s still a frightening number of facebook users who have no grasp of the need to adjust their privacy settings. Even more aren’t aware that privacy is even an issue as they allow more and more applications to access their information. Last week my facebook stream (which I rarely ever bother to read) was full of people panicking about their phone numbers and the numbers of their phone contacts being openly visible on facebook.
Since these privacy issues began, rather than learning every little detail, I’ve chosen to take the safe route and scrape facebook of everything except my name and profile picture. That doesn’t make me savvy, just cautious.
And what about spyware and phishing sites? People still struggle telling legitimate sites from fake sites, and and surf the web with outdated virus software. I think on some level Microsoft relies on this ignorance because it’s one of the biggest reasons people buy new PCs. When my PC died, I avoided responsibility by buying a Mac. I’d never return to PC.
But those are just individual decisions, what about the media and government’s understanding of the internet, and more specifically, social networks?
I’m working on a post about the media’s over and mis-emphasis on social networking’s role in the uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. It’d be silly to imply that social media didn’t play a significant role. Facebook and twitter have been used for everything from informing protesters of places and times to meet to helping reporters find witnesses for stories or travel across borders.
But in many ways, the media is talking about social media in a way that gives it more credit than it deserves. After all, there are people behind these computers and simply using social media doesn’t make one effective at it. Further, the emphasis on digital revolutions is tone deaf given the lives lost or altered forever in these uprisings. Like so many things social network-related, I find myself asking “what about the human element?”
Finally, this year the government will have to make some big decisions on net neutrality. As companies like Comcast and Verizon spar about various services and territory, all the average consumer can do is sit back and hope internet service gets better and cheaper. We’re largely at the whim of corporations whether we’re informed or not.
Lately, the Obama administration has had to defend its position on net neutrality. This, a full 2 years into the President’s term. The internet and how we use it and how its provided to us is one of the most pressing matters of this generation. But I can’t help but wonder if the people who will make the biggest decisions about it–from Congress to the President–are about as knowledgeable as The Today show hosts were in 1994.