No more citizens, we are now netizens
When a fish gets caught in a net, it curses its luck and tries to free itself from the mesh. But the modern man volunteers to get caught in a net, an invisible yet more powerful net that keeps him entwined and entangled 24 hours. And, seemingly, he enjoys this entrapment—he is now a fully-fledged netizen.
This net, or the internet as it is known in its full form, exists in the virtual world and belittles us with its vast sources of information.
The internet determines how smart we are, or for that matter, how dumb we are. Elders tell kids that it's a nuisance. Kids think elders are dumb for not appreciating it. On the other hand, critics think it's a new form of slavery—a new form of colonisation. A corporate boss, a doctor, an engineer, a teacher or even a swindler cannot operate without the help of the internet. Many governments fell because of it.
We may call Bill Gates the champion who brought the internet commandments to the earthlings waiting below. An article written about him last year—found on the net—says that 26 years ago, Gates, who was still Microsoft's CEO, issued an office memo that he titled as "The Internet Tidal Wave."
He wrote: "The internet is a tidal wave. It changes the rules. It is an incredible opportunity as well as [an] incredible challenge." The point of the memo, according to the article, was that the internet was "fast becoming a force that was already changing the way people and businesses communicated with each other on a daily basis."
Bill Gates further said: "I have gone through several stages of increasing my views of [the internet's] importance. Now I assign the internet the highest level of importance. I want to make clear that our focus on the internet is crucial to every part of our business."
So, we can say that Bill Gates opened the floodgates of a unique communication technology which he himself termed "tidal wave." In some developed countries, it actually hit like a tsunami.
The internet is now a great source of information; one cannot pass a day without the net. Businessmen must have valuable information on their smartphones so they can run their office sitting in a hotel room in another continent. For a 10-year-old child or a 90-year-old man, internet connection on a computer or a smartphone is essential for the ladies in the house to keep their mental peace. Webinars on topics ranging from traffic congestion to questionable multiple marriages of sportsmen are getting popular these days. So, if the "net" is down, we see darkness even in the daytime.
Nowadays, the word "application" has a whole new connotation. It has been condensed to "app," and while smart people make the best use of them, they make the life of the not-so-smart ones quite miserable. And it has made the job of investigative journalists quite easy as most of the background information is already there on the net.
The internet is a great source of entertainment. From playing online games, chatting and browsing, to listening to music and watching movies and dramas—all of these are now available on the net. And for those who are hungry for updates on world events, there are hundreds and thousands of news groups and services to keep them happy.
The internet is promoting digital literacy around the globe. It helps students to prepare a business related PowerPoint presentation and also to complete university assignments on time. Through the internet, we can teach a class full of students during pandemic situations. The days of studying at university libraries are long gone—almost all the books in the world are now available on the net. You just click, and the book appears before your eyes. You save it promising to yourself that you will read it tomorrow. You also buy books online while searching for stores offering discounts in clearing sales.
You are a bachelor, and you need to cook a food dish pronto? No worries. You take the help of the net. Details about the dishes, their ingredients and the directions are all there. You follow every instruction. You love the look of it. But the food that you cook after a lot of heave-ho turns out to be unpalatable. Don't worry! Who's there to find out? Wait! You cannot kick a virtual being, can you? Now, against your doctor's advice, you have been ordering fancy food online. But, you are unhappy because you cannot digest the food that arrives!
To make life easy, virtual shops are here to exploit the rich and the gullible. You place the order—often for things that will be thrown away after a month—and goods will arrive at your doorsteps.
While the advantages of using the net are many, the disadvantages are just as numerous as well. Hackers believe computers and the internet came from God as a blessing for them. They can empty a local bank's coffer sitting in a faraway country—maybe in the Philippines or North Korea. And smart guys can also swindle thousands of gullible men by opening an online business.
Many people point out that spending a lot of time using the internet is not good for health. It leads to obesity and other non-communicable diseases. Some sexagenarians browse dating sites and go to the gym to look fit. They post pictures from their college days, but forget that their recent photos with a protruding tummy are on the net which may pop up any time.
The internet has robbed us of the joy of writing letters to our near and dear ones. This art has gone extinct with the sad demise of the postal service. Instead of sitting down with a fountain pen and a sky-blue letter pad, we lie down with our smartphones and type away a short letter using ridiculously condensed words like "luv," "rofl" or "btw," or even "ttyl"!
Many of us want to believe that had Agatha Christie been alive today, she might have written a best-seller titled "Murder with the Help of Internet." Well, just a thought.
There is something sinister called the "internet addiction." The problem of remaining hooked onto the internet all day long has become pathological in nature for some people. The obsession makes them lazy; people, especially children, are suffering from eating and sleeping disorders. Temper tantrums among such children is common. The US government has ultimately recognised such compulsive addiction as a mental disorder, because it results in significant damage to an individual's ability to function normally in various situations.
Psychologists say that the young generation is particularly at risk of developing internet addiction disorder. Cases show that their academic performances plummet for spending long hours online, and many students have been found to suffer health consequences due to loss of sleep. Experts say the internet can foster various addictions, including addiction to pornography, game-playing, auction sites, social networking sites, and surfing of the Web.
A study of Chinese high school students in 2010 suggested that students with moderate to severe internet addiction are 2.5 times more likely to develop symptoms of depression than others. Another study shows that internet addiction is also associated with an increased risk of substance abuse, which means they remain prone to using drugs.
Just insert an x in the word "net," and it becomes "next." So, what is next? Will the net develop its own intelligence and control our life—our past, present and future—in the real sense of the term? Will the internet control our birth and death? When death will be imminent, will we receive a message from a supercomputer to make preparations for our funeral? Scary thought, indeed!
Shahnoor Wahid is a freelance journalist.