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The growth in the availability of affordable computing technology has caused a number of major shifts in the way that society operates. The majority of these have been for the better, with home computers and the internet providing unlimited access to all of the information ever created and discovered by humanity.
There are, however, some less positive social issues generated as a direct result of technological advances. In the interests of balance, it is important to analyse these and assess the severity of their impact so that steps can be taken to better understand and combat the negative effects.
1. Communication Breakdown
Socialising within a family unit has always been important, as it strengthens the bonds between us and ensures cohesion within the group. But with more and more households owning several computers and numerous portable devices granting access to information and entertainment, some argue that this is leading to a lack of family communication.
If each member is engrossed in their laptop, smartphone or tablet each evening, even communal things like watching television are compromised. Meanwhile, you can see whole families who are out to dinner and still staring into a touchscreen rather than talking to one another.
2. Defamation of Character
The only means of getting in touch with major corporations or famous people in the public eye prior to the advent of digital communication was via a stiffly written letter. This was, of course, accessible only to the intended recipient and thus a very private way for the disgruntled to vent their spleen. But first message boards and now social media services like Facebook and Twitter are being used to defame people and businesses in an intrinsically public manner.
This has led to arrests, lawsuits and the threat of placing stricter controls over what can and cannot be posted to such services. It has also caused heartache and woe for many individuals, helping to perpetuate a massive, international rumour mill which pays little heed to facts or the threat of legal action.
3. Identity Theft
Fraud is another spurious activity that has been able to evolve in the wake of easily accessible computers and the internet.
Perhaps most problematic and prevalent of the various fraudulent activities is identity theft, in which personal details of innocent people are harvested by a third party so that they can be used for malicious purposes. This includes carrying out illicit online transactions and other damaging activities that can have serious ramifications.
4. Cyber Bullying
As with the defamation of public figures, the internet and computers have also made it easier for spiteful people to attack people they know personally as well as perfect strangers via the anonymous platforms that are available to them.
This has led to serious incidents of cyber bullying involving both children and adults, sometimes with tragic consequences. The problem with these techniques is that they tend to go under the radar to an even greater degree than traditional bullying, which makes it harder to detect and correct.
5. Gaming Addiction
Whilst computers and the internet have made it easier for gambling addicts to get their fix, a new type of addiction has also arisen, in the form of addiction to videogames. This is something that can impact people of all ages and leads inevitably to a number of problems, from the social to the financial.
Professionals are beginning to take gaming addiction seriously and combat it in the same way as other diseases.
Whilst high profile cases of online identity theft and fraud should have caused people to become more careful about how they use their personal information, issues of privacy and a lack of appreciation for the risks are still widespread.
This extends beyond simply giving away private data via chat rooms, message boards and e-commerce sites and extends into the compromising world of social media.
Employers are now combing Facebook and Twitter to effectively do background checks on potential employees, paying particular attention to those that have not chosen to use privacy settings to prevent anyone from getting a look at their details.
7. Health & Fitness
We are living increasingly sedentary lifestyles, because computers are removing the need for us to physically carry out many tasks, as well as keeping us rooted to one spot throughout our working days and during our leisure time.
This is leading to an epidemic of childhood and adult obesity throughout the developed world, with the UK possessing one of the worst records in this respect of any of its Western neighbours.
The educational properties of computers are well known and universally lauded, but having all the information in existence on tap has its own issues.
In particular, the practice of plagiarism has become a major problem, as students can simply copy and paste whole chunks of text from online sources without attributing the work to anyone else. This has become the bane of educational institutions, which tend to come down hard on detected plagiarists in order to discourage similar activities from others.
9. Terrorism & Crime
Computers have been a positive force in allowing for the creation of global movements and righteous activism in a number of forms. However, the other side of the coin is that terrorists and organised criminals also exploit the web for their own nefarious purposes.
Businesses, governments and individuals are all at risk of cyber attack and the perpetrators can often act anonymously from a country with no extradition agreements.
This is a less clear cut topic, but there are fears that unmitigated access to pornography for adolescents is shaping the sexual proclivities and expectations of young people in problematic ways.
This guest post was contributed by Conosco; a company providing fixed-price IT support to London’s most demanding businesses for 10 years.