Information Age: A New Socio-Political and Economic Reality in India

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Introduction

The Internet can be reckoned as the man’s latest innovation which has changed the world. It totally reduces distance and has broken all the boundaries of the information age. Today it is regarded as the primary source of information and knowledge and in this view, the general idea is that everyone is able to serve themselves according to their needs by the means of internet. It has brought a revolution in the banking as well as in trade and commerce sector and provides services at the hand of the users/consumers.

With the increase in the use of wireless communication technologies such as android mobile phones, tablets, and laptops, internet penetration via digital media and social media has changed the way the people interact and collaborate in the broader social context, the institution or in society. Much of the impact of increased use of this can be beneficial for both individual and society, but not all impacts of increased use of internet-mediated media are positive. Thus, the objective of this discussion is to bring the problems and impact of internet on the individual and society in general. And what strategies can be used to reduce and prevent the problems.

Today internet plays a very crucial role in the development of an individual as well as in the development of a society and country in whole. As stated earlier, the internet has many positive impacts on one life, it helps us connect, share information, gain knowledge, get insights about the world around. As of today, it has made banking and shopping so convenient that one can avail banking services at single touch via smartphones, likewise online shopping is a major trend nowadays. In fact, the government with the advent of digitalization in India implemented new schemes for development such as e-commerce, and e-governance. Apart, the negative consequences of internet technology should not be ignored. It has a huge impact on an individual and on society in particular. The change is the result of the influence of information technology and digital media. Though it is about the individual choice of using these technologies or not, it is more about the adjustment with the present situation FoMO- Fear of Missing Out. It is defined as a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent [1]. This social anxiety is characterized by ‘a desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing” [1].

This social anxiety is seen in almost all the peer groups. In order to overcome this fear, most of the individual accept technology as a tool and try to accommodate themselves in the pertaining society. But when it comes to addiction, it changes the person’s behavior towards self, family, and society. But what exactly the user is addicted to on the internet? Researchers argue that the internet in itself is not addictive, but it is rather the activities that the internet can be used for [2].

Impact of Internet on Individual and Society in General

  1. Psychological stress: The idea that internet and information technology such as social and digital media can be harmful is not new. Researchers have found that the longer you spend on social and digital media the more likely you are to be depressed [3]. It is because people often compare their real lives to the idealized versions of their friends and relatives lives online. As most of the posts and pictures shared are happy and cheerful ones and not the woeful ones, it results in comparison of one’s life with the others. Though social media is a great way to stay connected with friends and loved ones, digital media for getting relaxation by watching television and playing video games but the need for getting more likes and comment and getting over the gaming levels can lead to anxiety and addiction.
  2. Disassociation with primary associations: A person addicted to social and digital media is more likely to stay alone or isolated. It is not that he/she feels isolated or left alone but they feel more connected online and so they avoid interaction with the family members. With the advent of television, mobile phones, video games and social media, individuals are more concentrated to these new technologies and face-to-face interaction is declining. The family relationships are changing rapidly. Priority from family and friend is shifting towards technological advancement. The family is always said to be the fundamental unit for the socialization of an individual which strengthens the bond within the group and with the society. With the rise in technology advancement, people own more and smarter phones, laptops, computers, televisions, and new gadgets giving access to information and technology it is argued that it is leading to the breakdown of communication in the family. As per today, almost every member of the family is having mobiles, laptop and computers and television as a common ground for entertainment [4]. If everyone is busy in their touch screen and laptops, the common television entertainment is compromised by the technology sustaining at everyone’s hand. Even if the family is out for dinner in the restaurant, most often it is noticed that the technology acquainted people are staring at their mobile phones and tablet rather than talking with each other. It is a great concern for the family and social institution as the family is an essential part for the development of each and every individual which shapes the individual and society in general.
  3. Addiction and health issues: As a result of easy access to the internet through affordable smart phones and tablet, India will soon have half-a-billion internet users as announced recently by the telecom and IT ministry [5]. Though India is just one-tenth of the United States and other developed countries in the use of the internet, the country is witnessing challenges due to the overuse of internet [5]. It is no surprise that always connected online; people get stress when in no internet zone and get nervous when the battery gets low.

Regular connectedness to internet leads to addiction and today it is a growing problem all around the globe. It may be an addiction to social media, web, youtube, online games, gambling and so on. This addiction, in turn, affects the lifestyle of the user in untimely food habits, sleep disorders, migraine, backaches, the decline in physical fitness, dry eyes and even carpal tunnel syndrome. According to a study, 24.6 percent of the adolescents have the internet addiction disorder (IAD). As per Indian Council for Medical Research report 12 percent of individuals using internet suffers from IAD [5].

The recent example of this can be referred to the ‘Blue whale challenge’, an online suicide game which entered the social networks through social media phenomenon by some anonymous selective groups [6]. In this game, the administrator or the whale/curator attacks the player (victims) who are psychologically weak and depressed. After a test whether the victim or the player is found determined to play the game, the curator gives 50 sets of a challenge to be completed in 50 days with the last challenge to commit suicide. The player has to share pictures after completing the challenge to the curator. The developer of this game Phillip Budeikin, a student of psychology who has been expelled from his university said that his motive behind the game is to clean the society by pushing to eliminate those he considered as having no value shouldn’t live in the society [7].

The blue whale challenge is linked to almost 150 deaths around Russia and Europe and 6 claims in India [8]. Other addictions may include drugs and consumption of alcohol. Regular and high intake of drugs and alcohol results in bad health and also causes family tensions. Society moving towards individualism: Internet has changed the society as it used to function, from a traditional society it has now become a network society. In incorporating the internet and mobile phones in the lives, people have changed the ways they interact with each other. They have become increasingly networked as individuals, rather than involving themselves in groups. It is not the internet that is creating a model of networked individualism but the development of the internet is providing adequate material support for the spread of individualism in the web as the dominant form of socializing. According to Emma Palese, this new form arises as a matrix of the identity update required by the global world in order to “be included”, as the need for inclusion is nothing more than the legacy of the abandonment of the authentic sense of belonging [9]. The sense of belonging is a natural human feeling that is being surpassed nowadays and is replaced by the virtual forms of social accumulation that are the attempts to satisfy the natural human sociability [9].

Dependency and virtual world: It is very common tendency to get panic when the internet is not working on our mobile phones. We are so used to it that we depend on internet facility for almost everything be it banking, online transactions, shopping, academic research, entertainment, and relationship.

As per Sherly Turkle in Ted talks, she says that “as we expect more from technology; we start to expect less from each other” [10]. We often tend to hide by sending messages electronically rather than discussing our problems and difficulties in person where feelings, ideas, thoughts, and expressions are exposed to be shared and felt. Turkle points out that we are not building a relationship with each other, but building relationship with technology as if it is a real thing. She explains that the technology doesn’t empathize and does not experience death or disappointments, instead, we select to use technology when we feel vulnerable and technology provides us with an illusion of comfort and of being in control. We feel lonely but we are afraid of intimacy and therefore from social networks to social robots we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship and autonomy [10]. Our desires and needs are never ending phenomena and in this process internet and technology provide us with the specific requirement.

Related to the above phenomena, youngsters today mostly rely on social networking sites for making friends and amusements. Many examples are there where people met in social media and get married, get benefits in business and research but on the other side, it is leading to social problems such as dishonesty and unfair means to gain advantage. It may be in the case of relationship, friendship, and business. With the increase penetration of internet on personal lives of people and unhealthy relationships, online pornography is increasing in India and people now look for partners just to have sexual satisfaction out of distress of unfruitful relationships and marriages.

Social and Political Instability

Misuse of information and media: Fake accounts of celebrities and politicians and spread of untrue information about them by hackers and users are not new to us. With the increase in easy access to the internet and its transparency of content, the frequency of cyber abuse and cyber bullying has increased. Cyber abuse is commenting on victims profile using bad words and slangs. Politicians and celebrities are among them who are among the target groups by the user. These days the cyber abuse has become so common in social media platform that every other day someone reports for abuse. Studies have revealed that in India mostly women are the one who faces abuse online.

Cyber bullying is another example of misuse of technology. It is the act of bullying or harming or harassing through teasing, derogatory and defamatory remarks, using electronic technology. Cyber bullying is an act where people make fake ID profiles on social media and make fake e-mail accounts to anonymously threaten or domineer a person. The social media is an example of this where in most of the cases the person shares intimate photographs of his/her ex-partner just to take revenge, which actually affects the victim’s integrity and life.

Sam Pitroda who is regarded as the father of India’s telecom revolution says he is deeply concerned about the way the social media is misused globally to propagate hatred, lies and false ideas [11]. He says that media technology companies such as Facebook and Google don’t take the responsibility for their truthfulness of content and he urged that globally there has to be a movement on social media and ethics [11].

Increase in cyber crime: Cyber crime is the offenses that are perpetrated against individuals, groups or organization to intentionally harm or threaten the victim’s reputation, cause mental or physical harm, or loss directly or indirectly using the computer, mobile phones, and a network. With the increase in consumption of the internet and its benefits world-wide, there also increased the concept of the cyber crimes. Cyber crimes may be categorized into socio-economic cyber crimes, psychological cyber crimes and geo-political cyber crimes in terms of their cause and effects.

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Socio-economic cyber crime may include cyber fraud, cyber privacy, cyber blackmail, romance scam, cyber prostitution, cyber extortion, and illegal online gambling.

Psychological cyber crime may include child pornography, cyber stalking, cyber bullying, cyber homicide, cyber prostitution and cyber rape.

Geo-political cyber crime may include cyber spies, cyber espionage, cyber vandalism, cyber riots, cyber wars, cyber terrorism, cyber-colonialism and cyber-trespass.

Recently, in May 2017, a global ransom attack said to be the biggest cyber attack ever in the world affected 130000 systems in more than 100 countries around the globe [12].

According to a report by Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-In), 27,482 cases of cyber crime were reported from January 2017 to June 2017 [13]. From global ransom ware attacks to phishing and scanning rackets, at least one cyber crime is reported in every ten minutes in India [13].

A report published by the National Crime Records Bureau Report (NCRB, 2011) says that cyber crimes under IT Act have increased by 84.5 percent in the year 2011 as compared to 2010 in India. Maximum offenders who were arrested for cyber crimes were in the age group 18 to 30 years [13].

If we look into the causes that led to cyber crimes firstly, it may be the economic factor in which money plays a major role. Most of the cyber criminals were into asking ransom demands to the victims and because of the anonymity and low risk of getting caught in the network it encourages them in this criminal activity. Secondly, the personal motivation such as taking revenge, jealousy as result of human emotions and Vendettas. Thirdly, it can be the un-updated use of antivirus, not using computer security gave the cyber criminal an easy access to information and data stored.

Social and political instability: As an era of information technology and various capabilities, especially the young population has always been instrumental in addressing their social and political rights. The internet has provided an open platform to share information that is widely accessible and transparency is the result as a byproduct of its influence. Internet and social media has changed the way of information and communication and made the world more connected and aware. However, the news and information have a lot of contents on the internet and social media channels that trigger hatred and terror. There are many occasions when fake news and videos on social media and you tube resulted in public unrest including communal riots and conflicts.

The latest case is the Bengal communal riots. A still photograph of a Bhojpuri movie in which a woman was forcibly pulled whose saree is being pulled by a man in public was shared. It was claimed that the photograph was taken at the violence-hit in Basirhat, West-Bengal’s North 24- Parganas [14]. According to a report by Alt News, the scene is from the movie “Aurat Khilaona Nahi”, which was released in 2014 [14].

Promotion of terrorist activities: As the whole world uses the internet as a means of communication, terrorists are no behind in using the internet for communication with each other. Terrorists use internet for recruitment, fundraising, and propaganda. They use websites for recruitment and fundraising purposes and it is easy for them to change the website address whenever they feel insecure [15]. The websites are used as virtual training grounds, offering techniques of making bombs, share sensational pictures and to host propaganda messages. The Internet has become an essential tool for the terrorists to coordinate messages, attacks and also provides a global pool of potential donors and recruitments. The internet has provided the effective and faster way for spreading ideologies and the countermeasure is difficult as the byproduct of the flexibility of internet [16].

Cyber terrorism is the use of internet and networks to launch the attacks. It may be the case of hijacking, atom bomb blast and nuclear weapons. In cyber terrorism, through the internet terrorist can operate from remote areas and anonymously, crossing the nation-wide boundaries without being detected and regulated. Cyber terrorism is cheaper and less dangerous for them than physical attacks. Internet also helps the terrorists by providing the information about what is happening in and around the world which directly or indirectly supports in the planning and implementation of their plans and motives.

Digital and social divide: Digital divide can be described as the social and economic inequality (in terms of access to technology) between people with regard to access to and resources to use Information and Communication Technology (ICT) such as internet [17]. In simple words it is the divide between the digital accessibility of ‘haves’ and ‘have not’ but with the global penetration of mobile phones it is becoming relatively inequality between those who have more bandwidth and skills and those who have less[17]. It can exist between the rich and poor, urban and rural, educated and uneducated, old and the young generation, different geographical locations and within the social class. It is obvious that a person with greater socio-economic resources will have a greater access to technology in terms of usage, accessibility, availability, information sharing and advance technological accessories but more than that he/she will possess more knowledge and skills, as compared to the poor people who suffer bad economy[18].

Therefore, it can be said that richer are becoming more rich and poor is becoming poorer not only in monetary terms but also in terms of skills and information. Digital poverty is much more problematic as it affects not just the traditionally rich but also the traditionally poor and threatens to broaden socio-economic inequalities in the society.

Strategies for Combating the Problems

  1. There should be strict laws for internet usage: Information and Technology Act 2000 was passed by the parliament on 17 October to deal with the penalties and punishment related to the cyber crime in the fields of e-governance, e-commerce, and banking. But with the rise in cyber crimes and misuse of the internet in the past few years, there is the need to implement strict laws and examine the law, validity of the law and necessity to regulate the law.
  2. Children and adults should have different accessibility: Accessibility to internet-mediated activities should be categorized as children’s and adults. There should be strict monitoring on the use of internet and internet based activities at family, school and colleges and organizational level. The government should monitor the contents of the programme delivered by the various means of internet and the family members especially the parents must always remain alert on what their children are indulging in.
  3. Controlled access to internet and monitoring: There is a need for control over the use of the internet as there are several issues related to health, behavior, values, and ethics. The internet use specific software that create database of the content. The government in association with NGO’s can develop contact with the internet service providers and get accustomed to their policies regarding various internet or cyber issues. Also, monitoring teams can be made especially to monitor internet sites and identify the content that constitutes threat or turbulence the internet regulation and serve notice to internet service providers to remove such contents. This will not supplement the law enforcement agency but given the complexity of rule and regulation of the internet, the internet service providers may act more effectively in content viewing and taking action.
  4. Mass education and sensitization: The government should take up initiatives to impart knowledge about internet, its benefits and its side effects at the individual level, community level, State, and country level. The government with the collaboration with the NGO’s, as NGO are the ones who are in direct contact with the people and can help in generating awareness and in skill training. Sensitization about the issues and problems via campaigns, seminars and more and more public service announcement (PSA). Above all promulgate the digital literacy as an important element. Literacy in not only on how to use technology but also how to use it safe and for what purpose.
  5. Use of IEC technique: IEC stands for Information, Education, and Communication. It is a public health approach attempting to change or reinforce a set of behavior in a target group regarding a specific problem and within a pre-defined time period. It has been most apparently used in disseminating the information about HIV-AIDS. The use of IEC in combating the issues related to internet and its side effects can be helpful.

Conclusion

It is of no doubt that the use of technology has made our life easier than before. Especially the innovation of the internet as a major source of all development which has erased the boundaries and made people more connected with each other globally (socially, politically and economically).No doubt it plays a vital role in our day-to-day lives but its consequences cannot be ignored. In the light of the social work, the consequences of these new and upcoming technologies should be the in the primary concern.

It is not the technology that is shaping our life, but our reach and space we are giving to technology that is taking over our lives and the overall structure of the society. It is, therefore, necessary to address the problems that are arising with the internet penetration in our lives and society. And it is a real challenge for social work to combat the problems raised by the impact of the internet and its activities. The effective concept on which social work can work is collaboration. Collaboration means sharing power and contributes towards specific knowledge and skills with each other. As social work already works in relationships with advocates, police officer, non-governmental bodies and various nodal agencies, similarly, relationship with the youngsters, family, and community may be necessary for effective practice. If a vision can be made which is communicated to a larger mass and stems from a collaborative agreement that will promote awareness, education, participation and community action, then important steps can be easily made. Fostering a common purpose in all the members of the society which has input from all the sectors is indispensable.

References

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