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International Internet Day: A Gift Or A Curse?

There is no doubt that 1969 was one of the greatest years for technology in human history. To mention a few significant technological events that occurred in 1969, we landed a man on the moon for the first time on July 20, we installed the first Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) on September 2 in New York City and finally on October 29 came the pioneering invention of what would be known today as the internet.

1969 will go down as a notable year with the world being introduced to Neil Armstrong and John Shepherd-Baron, they would come to be known as the first human on the moon and the inventor of the ATM respectively. In the same year, little known 21-year old UCLA student programmer, Charley Kline administered the first electronic message between computers, a truly ground-breaking moment within the initial stages of the technological age.

Kline sent the message from a computer in the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) to a computer in Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, California. The intended message was “Login”, but due to a system crash the message ended up being “Lo” instead of the full word. About an hour later after the crash was recovered, Kline was able to reconnect and input the full word. Read: How The Internet Got Started With a Simple Hello.

Just like that, an integral part of our lives which we could never have imagined was born, and so 29 October marks International Internet Day to commemorate this momentous occasion. This was just the first step towards the many facets of this “network of networks” invention that we would come to depend on.

Today, the internet is one of the most powerful tools in the world. It has reshaped the way we live, from networking to building relationships, researching, shopping, transacting, working, gaming and even learning. The list of possibilities that the internet has brought is endless as one can practically do anything from anywhere through a computing device and internet connection. I for one cannot help but wonder whether we have come to rely on the internet too much; in the process losing a sense of what it means to exist in the world as a human being.

Have we lost or found ourselves in the internet?

Many would say that the internet has connected us more than ever, as we are now able to easily communicate with anyone in the world and access/distribute information rapidly through the world-wide web.

My first encounter with the internet was back in 2009 when I started my first year at university. Coming from a disadvantaged background where I had zero internet access, I was quite fascinated by this enhanced interconnectedness. I could now catch up with my newly acquired friends via Mxit and Facebook, I could ask questions and get instant answers from my lecturers and tutors on email, if I skipped a class, I could access the lecture slides online and catch up, I was so excited.

One thing I realised was that I did not really need to leave my room to get things done and so I began to have fewer human interactions, all I needed was a computer and connectivity. In simpler terms, I realised that this enhanced interconnectedness led me to having remarkably fewer physical interactions. It had eliminated my need to engage face-to-face with fellow humans as I could do anything from the comfort of my room with my social interactions being reduced to close friends and fellow housemates within my res.

With the internet, one can:

  • Order meals on Uber Eats instead of going to a restaurant
  • Do distant or online learning to get a qualification instead of attending classes
  • Use Google Books, Google Scholar, and other reputable online sources to do academic research instead of going to the library
  • Order groceries online instead of visiting your local convenience store
  • Get a job overseas working remotely without having to relocate
  • Reconnect with old friends and colleagues on social media
  • Make new friends on social media and never have to meet them
  • Even swipe right on Tinder to find the love of your life

There is truly a lot one can do with the technology available. The more these inventions advance, the more we lose touch with reality. Here are a few examples of the negative consequences of the internet:

  1. The Rise of Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality

With Virtual Reality technology on the rise, companies are simulating virtual worlds that place the user inside a “life-like” real experience that they can interact with. Some virtual realities simulate human senses such as vision, touch, hearing, smell and go towards immersing the user with an artificial world.

I find this quite daunting as we are already faced with an internet addiction epidemic in the world. This technology could easily become even more addictive as people might prefer the artificial world over the real one. In the article 4 Things to Keep in Mind on World Book Day: The Digital Age Perspective, I mentioned that South Africa is one of the most internet-addicted countries in the world spending approximately 8 hours a day on the internet (mostly on social media).

One could also refer to the looming banking strike which has now been interdicted by the Labour Court. This was a result of announced retrenchments and restructuring in the banking sector after investing in digital technology and artificial intelligence which replace human tasks. Standard Bank closed 104 branches nationwide which left many jobless, Capitec announced that it has implemented self-service technology replacing cashiers in 122 branches, Absa is undergoing restructuring in its South African retail and business banking unit and will affect 870 jobs. Read: What to expect from South Africa’s major banking strike. All this happens at an extremely tough time in South Africa where unemployment is a real problem, particularly youth unemployment. Read my previous article for youth unemployment statistics in South Africa: Youth Day: The 3 major role players in Today’s “Youth Protest”

The internet has given us the illusion that we are more connected than ever before. It seems like we are growing further apart as we have come to rely on machines more than we do humans.

  1. Cyberbullying and Hacking

With much of the world connected to the internet alongside an ever-increasing rate of internet addiction, web related misconduct is still on the rise. Marketing company Ipsos recently published a study on Cyberbullying in late 2018.

Based on empirical evidence, Ipsos revealed that approximately one in every five parents worldwide state that their child has experienced cyberbullying. In South Africa alone, 25% of parents have admitted that their child had been cyberbullied.

Access full report here: Global Views on Cyberbullying

As an avid social media user, I have seen people demeaned by fellow users over the content they post (e.g. grammatical errors on posts or little knowledge about certain topics).

Just this month, former Bafana Bafana captain Itumeleng Khune was cyberbullied based on allegations that he had falsified his age to appear younger. Also this month, South African musician Cassper Nyovest was cyberbullied on social media for a minor transgression of misspelling the isiZulu word “Bayede” as “Bayethe”. I too have been a victim of bullying on social media due to others misinterpreting content that I had posted on a trending topic. Much like traditional bullying, cyberbullying can result in significant emotional and psychological distress.

Apart from cyberbullying and numerous other forms of internet abuse, the presence of hacking as an internet crime continues to escalate beyond control. Cybersecurity is often neglected by individuals as it is typically seen as a problem specific to large corporations, banks, and the government. In fact, cybersecurity is a problem for all internet users, and anyone can get hacked at any time.

In June, the CEO of the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (Sabric), Kalyani Pillay, announced at the 2018 Crime Stats launch that digital banking crimes in South Africa have increased by 75,3%, from 13,389 incidents to 23,466 – in which R262m was stolen – while general banking crimes like ATM attacks and cash-in-transit robberies have declined. These hacks mostly occur through banking apps, online banking (the banking portal accessed from your computer), and mobile banking (USSD communication) in the form of phishing, vishing, SMishing or e-mail hacking. Below is the breakdown:

See full report here: SABRIC Annual Crime Stats 2018

I have been fortunate enough at work to be appointed as a cybersecurity champion in my team. I facilitated a cybersecurity initiative with the aim to empower my colleagues with knowledge about cybersecurity threats that they may experience and how to protect not only themselves but also the organisation and its interests. Initiatives such as these are beneficial in heightening an awareness about the importance of cybersecurity.

  1. Other issues to be aware of

It is quite evident that too much internet connectivity is becoming a problem, not just personally but on a socio-economic level as well. Apart from the above mentioned, there are several other issues that the internet has caused. While it has certainly become the biggest source of information along with a certain ease of accessibility, it is also very easy to find falsified information on the internet.

Information websites such as Wikipedia can be edited by anyone, even though there is a vetting process before the edit is published. The editing of Wikipedia with a disruptive aim of intentionally inserting wrong information is called Wikipedia Vandalism. Some set up their own information websites with this same disruptive aim, while others post opinion pieces that are not peer reviewed on matters in which they do not specialise. It is therefore important to make use of reputable sources to do research.

You have now just easily accessed this article, which might sound like it is purely my opinion about the internet, but I have referenced reputable sources on my facts to back up the content. I have also passed it on to other specialists in the field of online business for review.

The internet has also brought us the Dark Web, which is that part of the world wide web that isn’t indexed by search engines. Now there is a reason that this part of the web is not indexed by search engines and is referred to as “Dark”, it is where all kinds of unimaginable perversity, misconduct and crimes such as human trafficking, child abuse, and torture, occur that we are not meant to see on the regular web that we all know. Read: The Dark Web Is Still A Huge, Difficult Problem.

Conclusion

Given the issues highlighted above, can we say that the internet is a good invention for humanity? Or like Frankenstein did we create a monster that we should fear based on the potential to destroy us?

Much like any other technological invention, it is up to the user on how they make use of the invention. Some have unethical intentions, whereas others use the internet for its intended purpose. Thanks to the internet I can put food on the table through my digital marketing career, which would be non-existent if the internet had not been created. I cannot even imagine where I would be without it.

The internet has also made learning so much easier and more affordable as I am able to acquire online certifications which enhance my skillset and professional growth. As much as technology (the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the internet) has made some jobs obsolete, it has opened up hundreds of new jobs. Equally, it has made it easier for professionals that are eager to grow to stay relevant in their fields through upskilling and reskilling. The 4IR has created professions which have never existed before such as User Experience/Interface Design, Systems Analysis, Computer Programming, and many others. One needs a growth mindset and be open to new possibilities in this internet age. My own field, digital marketing, consists of sub professions like Pay Per Click (PPC), Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Email Marketing, Digital Data Analytics etc.

On the internet it is also much easier to make money online today through channels such as digital marketing, Forex & cryptocurrency trading, eCommerce and many others. These skills can be learnt and passed on to others. You can access peer-reviewed information from reputable websites when doing research and expand your knowledge on certain concepts.

Given the increasing number of cybercrimes, cyber security companies are continuously inventing more technology to protect our devices against any new threats so that we can be always on the lookout for new cyber security technology to stay safe. It is up to us to activate the security and privacy settings and be alert to what we open.

Most importantly, as much as the internet makes our lives easier, we must always remember what it means to be human by living our lives, physically interacting and connecting with others. Go for a walk outside and feel nature, ask a friend out for a coffee or beer and find out how he/she is, put down your earphones in the bus or taxi and connect with the person next to you. It is therefore up to us to make the 29th of October a gift as opposed to a curse.

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