If you went back through the whole of human history, for the most part you’d find people living in poverty and ignorance under one sort of tyranny or another. Travel was difficult, disease was rampant, wealth was sparse, scientific advances were slow and uneven, and parents had little reason to think their children would have a better life than they did.
This really started to change, at least in the parts of the world you’d want to live in, less than 150 years ago. Many of the life-altering inventions that we take for granted today were invented during that very limited time period. Just to give you a few examples, here are the years when the following inventions first became mainstream enough to be acquired by 75% of American households: radio – 1937, refrigerator – 1948, television – 1955, telephone – 1957, automobile – 1960, and the VCR – 1992. The Internet just hit that same magic mark in 2007 and the ramifications of that may be more serious than we realize.
That’s not to say the Internet is a bad thing. To the contrary, every person reading this column could reel off a plethora of great things about the Internet: connecting friends across the world, cheaper communication via email and Skype, new business opportunities, games, MP3s, internet dating, file trading, social networking, streaming movies, Amazon, Google, eBay, Craigslist — it goes on and on.
The thing is, everyone seems to be able to tell you about what makes the Internet great, but the ways that it negatively impacts us seem to be slipping under everyone’s radar. That’s not shocking if you think about it. How long do you think it took the public at large to catch on to the hazards of drunk driving, drive-by shootings, and the Fast and the Furious series? The same thing could be said for the Internet, except it’s so new we have very little data to study.