Opinion

Internet and social networks:
The good, the bad and the
ugly

For last few years we have been arguing about whether there is life after Wikileaks? Can we now add another question to the cart? Is there life after Social Networks? Does Social Networks pose similar dilemma and dangers? What will happen when your private information becomes public?

Social networking is seen as a private virtual space for likeminded people to share information. Is it really a private space? How it could be private when all the information is in the hands of few people who own and run Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter? Can the so called free and democratic virtual space also become an explosive minefield like the Wikileaks? After all, it is all about the information, your information.

Attempt to answer these questions often turn into a comparison of different technologies and services available on the web and end up with a somewhat prickly combative defense of Social Networks by their creators and users. When it comes to protecting information all web services have flaws, we say.

Technologies are imperfect, so are the Social Networks, but they are useful. More than 500 Million people who are using Facebook can not be wrong. Or does it mean that such a huge number of subscribers of Facebook are somehow healing the planet with hot gossip, sexy pictures, stale ideas and petty conversations about their daily lives.

Today the numbers of networking devices connected to the cloud are equal to the total global population. By 2015 the number of these devices will double. As of now, every minute 277,000 people log in to Facebook which amount to 6 million Facebook views, 320 Twitter and more than 100 Linkedin accounts are created every minute. On You-Tube 30 hours of video is uploaded every minute. Also in a single minute 1.3 million people will be watching these videos around the world. Every minute more than 2 million queries are made on the Google and with their new Google+ the reach of Social Networks will grow further. In Thailand around 28 per cent of the people have Facebook accounts.

With all this evidence, it seems that we are standing on the front wave of ubiquitous connectivity. And the more that we are connected, the more we want to find new avenues to engage with one another and share ideas and information in ways that were not possible just a few years ago. In this highly connected, always switched-on world, Social Networks makes more sense than ever before. They offers anyone who needs to learn a new skill, prepare for a new job, or pursue a new career, get a certificate, or earn a degree without moving or leaving their current employment. As Social Networks extends the reach of the campus and corporate learning centers, it provides more ways for them to expand.

To some cynics, social networks are looking more and more like cyber clinics where lonely people gather to bond and feel better. Millions of people spend hours and days surfing through the toxic wasteland of their memories and bare them all for the whole world. Millions of people spend hours watching videos and movies.

What will happen when the Social Networks are all used up? What will happen to cyber space when it is all filled up with garbage? Just like Earth which is now filled with polluted and foul air and contaminated water, Internet is also being polluted with the digital fumes of idle chit-chat and terabytes of recycled and stinking information. What happens now that the Internet and Social Networks have also fused into a single predatory entity with a thin veil of a private communication space with big motive of maximizing profits for its creators? Can something that has originated from being a free resource like Internet can really be free? Where are we heading with the explosive growth of the Internet and mushrooming of new Social Networks? These are the questions we should be asking.

What we need today, for the sake of the survival of human species, a long term vision about the role of technologies in our lives. Every technology has its negative side. As we know well that convenience of an automobile has resulted in the contamination of air all over the planet. Large scale industries have created usable products for our consumption by polluting both air and water. All the three things essential for our survival- the air, water and nutrients are under threat.

Food and water has already become a commodity. The next in line is the air we breathe. Cities like Tokyo now have Oxygen parlors attached to an Internet café where people go and breathe some fresh air, for a price. Internet is also becoming like a giant parlor hosting Social Networks, gambling and porno sites.

And do not forget that there are some good things in the cloud. All the email, blogs and other useful services are making our lives better. Although the Internet provides enormous potential for socializing in a virtual space it also keeps the masses suspended in front of a flat plasma screen alone. They can not touch or feel anything. In reality, socializing without physical or real contact is similar to a floating cloud. In that sense, these networks have also clouded the human spirit and minds. It exists but only in the thin flat glimmering screen of a computer, a laptop or a mobile phone. But those who use the Social Networks believe that something is better than nothing. Some people also believe that virtual world can transform into a real experience. Well, everything is possible in a void or a bubble?

All we need to do is to evaluate its cause and effects, its real value in enhancing the quality of our lives. In real terms, technologies have brought us where we are today as a human civilization. We should ask this question "with everything that we may have today minus clean water, clean air and a nutritious meal are worth having?" That is the question.

For a moment, forget about clean information. There is no doubt that Internet has connected the world in tremendous ways but connectivity alone is not enough to enhance the quality of life. Life is all about clean water, clean air and a healthy meal. And after these three things, may be a good night sleep. Browsing social networks on a glaring plasma screens can not match the magic of a sky lit up with twinkling stars. There is life beyond the cloud; there is life without Social Networks.

Dr Kuldep Nagi is a Fulbright fellow from the US and is working in the faculty at Graduate School of eLearning at Assumption University.

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