Shipp Essay 1

The Internet: A Generation’s New Addiction

Technology and information management share a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties. In this modern age, the Internet has become the new product of this relationship, allowing a limitless network of information to be accessed by anybody nearly anywhere in the world. Following a common trend, the younger generation is much more eager to engage in the use of new technology, however, the Internet appears to be the main advocate of information addiction shared by a growing number of age groups in America. Is this dependence on the Internet for communication, information, economic benefit, and social networking a healthy one? Will it soon become evident that society’s increasing reliance on such a seemingly efficient tool will eventually prove to be more destructive than beneficial?

There is no arguing against the claim that the Internet is the fastest and easiest way to gather information in this country. Developed in 1982 as a form of internetworking between specific people, the Internet’s potential to become a global network was not realized until its expansion into popular use towards the turn of the century. As more users began logging in and adding to the network, various types of information and communication increased exponentially. As audiences grew, the necessity for reliability became a main goal for every website and service. In North America alone, nearly one billion people log on per year, almost one-sixth of the world’s population (Lachutt).

The Internet supports 108 million North American users daily. Of those daily users, over 30 percent are between the ages of 18 through 32; though online activity by older Americans is growing each year. Statistics show that a large variety of age groups depend on the Internet for various reasons, but more alarming is the increase in numbers of specific ages. 95 percent of teenagers between 15 and 17 years old are Internet users, while 89 percent of young adults between 18 and 24 years old log on frequently (Lachutt).

The plethora of services offered to users is hard evidence as to why the numbers continue to increase. In a survey offered to 4,000 students and faculty at Stanford University, every respondent stated that they consistently use the Internet to search for information, while 90 percent of participants engaged in email messaging. The average user accesses the Internet for five types of activities, including entertainment, consumer or business transactions, social networking and other forms of communication. Each mentioned reason for use are essential factors that build a modern human lifestyle, factors that have been in place since long before the creation of the Internet. It seems to make everything easier, and therein lays the issue. The problem is not what the public can gain from this mass global networking system, rather the main concern must focus on the growing but ignored negative effects the Internet is having on society (“The More Time…”).

The list of benefits provided by the Internet is long, and overlooked are the harmful side effects generated by nearly every common use as represented by previous surveys. Nearly every Internet user relies on its services for social networking. Email clients, websites like facebook.com and myspace.com, and chat rooms are frequent bookmarks on browser toolbars. When these services were first introduced, few people realized how dangerous and insecure many of these new programs would soon become. As law-abiding chat room users begin to recognize the endless potential to meet random strangers and develop a good relationship, immoral and criminal users saw an opportunity to take advantage of the social service.

Pedophiles and other indecent beings began falsifying accounts in order to lure unsuspecting new users into trusting and eventually meeting them. The problem became so widespread that law enforcement agencies began to shift resources and manpower that was originally designated for more traditional crimes towards stopping sexual crimes that would have never occurred without the existence of Internet chat rooms. The problem with online exposure to dangerous criminals has not been solved. Instead it has become so mainstream that some national news networks have gotten involved to alert parents of the dangers and to deter “online predators” from continuing their heinous crimes. Still, according to a study conducted by the University of New Hampshire, one out of seven children have been sexually threatened by online criminals. More children are logging onto the Internet each day, and despite the futile efforts by law enforcement agencies, online predators continue to be one of the most physically hazardous dangers of the Internet (Wolak).

A new popular website that has expanded on traditional chat rooms is a social service called chatroulette.com. This website can be utilized by anyone with online capability, regardless of age or any other restrictions. Participants do not even need to sign up for a username. The site offers its users random chats with complete strangers who are also using the program. Many of today’s popular computers come equipped with webcams and built-in microphones. This site takes full advantage of this common feature. Instead of chatting through text, the user is given a full live video of the person that they are talking to as well as a live audio feed. This website was likely created to curb trends of online predators posing as innocent teenagers. Instead, after spending a few short minutes of being connected to random strangers, it becomes clear that it only enhances the ability for lewd people to expose themselves to others regardless of age. Nearly half of the camera feeds contained a male or female masturbating, while many others depicted drug use and other illegal activities. As there is no contract, anyone can be unexpectedly subjected to illegal exposure. More frightening is that many of the feeds were broadcasting young teenagers who appeared to be no older than 12 or 13 years of age.

Children are not the only age group targeted by Internet crimes. The development of monetary management on the Internet has outpaced its security boundaries. Americans must be made more aware of the monumental financial impacts regarding unsafe and insecure online transactions. Websites like eBay.com and craiglist.com have popularized online consumer shopping so effectively that many retail stores sell merchandise and occasionally offer extra discounts to online shoppers. Papa John’s, Pizza Hut, and other similar restaurants also offer a substantial discount to orders placed over the Internet.

The benefit of efficiency and accurate communication, however, is countered by the rising number or criminals who have created websites designed to trick buyers into sending them confidential information, including credit card numbers, bank accounts, and even social security numbers. Many of these online scam artists have been successful in crimes as small as petty thievery up to more serious crimes involving complete identity theft.

Credit card companies are attempting to counter the issue by offering fraud protection among other passable security options; nevertheless, the problem remains so evident and complex that the FBI is now involved in many cases. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, nearly 265 million dollars were lost nationwide to online fraud in 2008. That’s 26 million dollars more than what was lost in 2007. In Virginia alone, over 6.5 million dollars were lost by online investors and consumers, the average individual monetary losses falling between one and five thousand dollars. The statistics drive the point that although more effort is being directed towards crime prevention of this type, the growing number of unaware users and privacy laws are making it increasingly more difficult to stop online fraudulent crimes. Clearly the growing abundance and effectiveness of perpetrators is consistently proving to be too overwhelming of an issue for the law to quell (IC3).

The lack of Internet security is not only affecting online consumers, but also rather nearly anybody who uses an online profile for emailing and communication, including Facebook and other popular email clients. Virginia Tech has been experiencing security problems for years, mainly from users who illegally hack the universal listserv used by almost every student and faculty. These hackers then send an email to every email address on the listserv, posing as an official of the university and requesting students and faculty to send them their password and username.

Hackers find it much less challenging to gain access to profiles on Facebook by adopting a user’s identity and then alerting the website that someone had changed their password. Within a few minutes they gain their victim’s password and personal information, sometimes including private photos, telephone numbers, and even home addresses.

These type of websites have become so popular among students that businesses have begun basing opinions of potential employees on pictures witnessed on the website, even if many of the pictures were intended for private use or simply for storage for the sake of memory. There are security features meant to protect the privacy of the user, though many human resources departments have little trouble bypassing these firewalls, sometimes using the same methods that hackers use to acquire personal information.

Potentially the largest problem faced by users who utilize the Internet to discover new knowledge is information authenticity. When a person logs on to research a topic, a search engine is usually the most efficient way to find information. Popular search engines include Google, Yahoo, and Bing, though many of the primary results list websites that have no verification as to any truth in their articles. Wikipedia.com is often one of the first results offered by Google, yet few users understand that literally anybody can post articles to the popular online dictionary, regardless of whether or not the information is truthful or if the sources even exist. The Internet may make researching and acquiring information faster and easier, but becomes irrelevant if the information learned is false in the first place.

The Internet deserves praise for making commonplace tasks faster and easier to accomplish. Its popularity continues to grow as more new users of every age group log on each day to explore its wonders. Unfortunately, its rapid rise is occurring too fast for it to be considered a safe, unfailing source of various services. Regardless, it is still considered to be the most reliable source of information and social networking, as shown by statistics over the past decade. Online crime is the easiest type of offense to commit with the lowest risk of being caught. The number of crimes involving sexual acts and monetary loss are rising every year and is overwhelming online policing strategies. If this continues, the Internet will prove to have caused more problems and detriment to society than its positive impact. The benefits are not worth the risks of losing identity, money, and jobs, all of which are monumental problems that increasingly plague today’s Internet. Until these mentioned problems are solved and information can be verified by an authentic source before becoming accessible to any user, a shift must be made to more traditional methods of research and product purchasing in order secure individual safety.

Sources:

"Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) | Annual Reports." Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) | Home. Web. 01 Mar. 2010. <http://www.ic3.gov/media/annualreports.aspx>.

Lachutt, Scott. "U.S. Report: Internet Usage By Age - PSFK." PSFK - New Ideas and Trends. 3 Feb. 2009. Web. 27 Feb. 2010. <http://www.psfk.com/2009/02/us-report-internet-usage-by-age.html>.

"Statistics." NetSmartz Homepage - Resource Has Moved. Web. 03 Mar. 2010. <http://www.netsmartz.org/safety/statistics.htm>.

“THE MORE TIME PEOPLE SPEND USING THE INTERNET." Stanford University. Web. 02 Mar. 2010. <http://www.stanford.edu/group/siqss/Press_Release/press_detail.html>.

Wolak, Janis, David Finkelhor, and Kimberly Mitchell. "Crimes Against Children Research Center." Home | University of New Hampshire. Dec. 2007. Web. 28 Feb. 2010. <http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/internet-crimes/factsheet_1in7.html>.

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