More than thirty years ago, in his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, author and media theorist Neil Postman warned us how the advent of television and the related paradigm shift from the printed word towards visual content has lead to a decline in serious public discourse and resulted in a population distracted by trivialities. This was before the age of the internet.
Drawing on Aldous Huxley’s futuristic novel “Brave New World”, Postman cautioned us: “In the age of advanced technology, spiritual devastation is more likely to come from an enemy with a smiling face than from one whose countenance exudes suspicion and hate.” In other words, both Postman and Huxley could foresee how we will willingly allow technologies to unravel our abilities to think deeply and connect with ourselves. In fact, were these social critics alive today, they would be alarmed by the way digital media has significantly contributed to what they had predicted.
For many of us, opening up our smartphones, tablets or laptops several times a day to browse the internet is a way of life. Internet trends compiled by Kleiner Perkins show that in the United States, people spend more than seven hours looking at screens. While television viewership has been declining, there has been a significant increase in time spent watching videos each day. Entertainment company Netflix has seen exponential growth of more than 600% in the last five years. Digital entertainment has become such a central feature that it is not uncommon to find a separate media room or home theater for a cinema experience at home in modern American homes.
The smartphone behaviour of millennials shows that they are inseparable from their mobiles. Eighty percent say they reach for their smartphones first thing in the morning, and 87% say it never leaves their side. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are the top favourite social media platforms for young people. Global interactive gaming is another emerging trend. These trends and figures do not surprise us. With increasing access to digital devices and internet user growth, in Pakistan we see very similar trends all around us.
We can all list the ways in which our personal, social and professional lives have been enhanced since the advent of the digital age, adding ease, accessibility, flexibility, expressiveness and so forth. But we are only beginning to understand the dark side of the digital age: online crimes, pornography, human trafficking, violent images, online abuse, and hate speech to name a few. To understand the scale, take the example of child pornography. On only a single server, American law enforcement found 42 million child pornography images. Tomi Grover, human trafficking educator, warns that parents often don’t realize that online platforms like Facebook and Instagram provide human trafficker’s access to their children and their activities.
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