Now I’m not sure about you but my first taste of the Internet came in my teens – around the same time that Ecstasy hit the market. Two massive phenomena’s that changed the way people party and communicate. Now I am not advocating Ecstasy but just highlighting how at around the same time both became popular, perhaps not for the same reasons. One major difference between them despite their popularity, is Ecstasy is claimed to harm brain cells and the Internet is argued to increase brainpower. On the other hand one thing that they do have in common is that Ecstasy is said to have broken down communication boundaries – people are loved up and accepting – communication or lack of it, depending on your trip, changed…just like how the internet has changed the way we communicate today…surely that’s all good right?
Not everybody would agree. British Professor Nicholas Carr highlights what he believes is a negative assertion of the Internet by stating that Internet use reduces the deep thinking that leads to true creativity. He also says that hyperlinks and over stimulation means that the brain must give most of its attention to short-term decisions. The vast availability of information on the World Wide Web overwhelms the brain and hurts long-term memory. This is as a result of large quantities of stimuli leading to a very large cognitive load making it difficult to remember anything.
Steven Pinker a Psychologist offers a counter argument that the Internet gives people more control over what they do, and that research and reasoning never came naturally to people and asserts that the Internet is actually making people smarter.
So where is the evidence?
UCLA professor of psychiatry Gary Small studied brain activity in experienced web surfers versus casual web surfers. The resulting evidence suggested that the distinctive neural pathways of experienced Web users had developed because of their Web use. Dr. Small concluded, “The current explosion of digital technology not only is changing the way we live and communicate, but is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains.”
I guess time will tell how that will transpire. One thing I will say is that it is quite shocking how quickly the Internet can be grasped. For example whilst working at a preschool centre I observed how an 18-month old girl, wearing a nappy and with a dummy in her mouth, still not acquired the power of speech, was able to pop herself in front of a computer, switch it on and then access a game she enjoyed playing. Her attention span exceeded her attention for singing Humpty Dumpty; in short she was absorbed and I might add quite good at the game. So what is this level of hand-eye-brain coordination doing to the brain synapses of a growing infant?
Again I guess time will tell.
For now one of the major advances of the Internet since it came into use is its function as a social media tool.
Surely this too should be all good right? The ability to access people from all over the world with same interests can only advance ones life, right? Well not according to Evgeny Morozov who claims that social networking could be potentially harmful to people. He writes that they can destroy privacy, and notes that “Insurance companies have accessed their patients’ Facebook accounts to try to disprove they have hard-to-verify health problems like depression; employers have checked social networking sites to vet future employees; university authorities have searched the web for photos of their students’ drinking or smoking pot.” He also said that the Internet makes people more complacent and risk averse. He said that because much of the ubiquity of modern technology-cameras, recorders, and such-people may not want to act in unusual ways for fear of getting a bad name. People can see pictures and videos of you on the Internet, and this may make you act differently.
Social Media sites are also creating an element of people power that the marketers are in more control of than the governments (unless you take another stance and see the government controlling the marketer’s – that’s another article!) The New York Times suggested that social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter helped people organise the political revolutions in Egypt where it helped certain classes of protesters organise protests, communicate grievances, and disseminate information.
It’s no surprise then that in some countries social media sites are vetted and filtered and in some cases prohibited. A few years ago Turkey banned YouTube because somebody uploaded a video stating Ataturk (The founder of Turkey’s Republic and adorned public figure) was Gay. For a country wanting to join the EU this was perhaps not a good move.
One thing for sure is that the Internet has bought the world closer and this indirectly leads to changes in the way people interact with each other and how businesses are done compared to the world before Internet. In fact, Internet has opened up many business opportunities while at the same time making business more challenging due to the global competition effect.
With the explosion of the Internet, social media marketing is now the future of marketing,
Tools of social media such as blogs, Facebook and Twitter put them at the forefront. Geoff Livingston offers a dynamic definition of Social Media:
“Social media…is the democratization and socialization of information as well as the tools to facilitate online conversations. To put it another way, it is the shift from one-way to two-way conversations.”
Marketing has long been seen as information distribution to your target audiences that way of marketing is quickly dying. Livingston speaks to this by distinguishing “audiences” from “communities.” And actually constitutes an entire paradigm shift.
Marketers no longer have the option of treating people like audiences because people no longer have to sit around listen. People have choices.
The hard fact is marketers no longer have the option of not engaging in community dialogue. Dialogue is happening whether we like it or not. We can either close our eyes hope they’re saying good things about our products & company; or we can help shape the conversation through our participation — and in turn be shaped ourselves.
So its time to get on the dance floor and be a part of the generation that is changing communication, marketing, brain function and probably a lot more that is yet to be discovered…