The online world may be creating a new culture via new ways of interaction through virtual channels. However, it is also possible that the observable changes in people’s behaviors are just lifestyle adjustments that barely scratch the surface of societal structure. It is clear that the Internet influences culture. Its effects can even be considered as a culture of its own. Some of these consequences may take many years to fully take effect. However, many of these changes are now evident in society. The Internet greatly affects the way people live. Much has changed because of the technology. For instance, people have changed their communication topics, frequencies and habits as a result of the availability and accessibility of online communication tools. In understanding the effects of the Internet on culture, it is also important to understand the implications of such changes. These changes bring benefits and risks that may require strategic solutions at the individual, organizational and societal levels.
The Internet facilitates major cultural changes. Evidence suggests that these changes are significant in terms of affecting interpersonal relationships and other aspects of life and society. However, these changes are not always positive and may be superficial, indicating the need for a comprehensive understanding of how the Internet affects lives and interpersonal relations. Understanding the long-term cultural impacts of the Internet also provides basis for the direction of new technological developments and implementations.
The Internet, Learning and Culture Change
The Internet is often seen as a tool that serves as a bridge for the cultural differences among the world’s nations. However, it is also possible that online tools are just another medium that provides faster and more convenient communication, without necessarily bridging cultural differences. Nonetheless, these issues highlight the need to examine how the Internet affects cultural differences. For instance, based on the increased intercultural online communications at the international level, one could argue that the Internet supports the harmonious mixing of different cultures. Such mixing could lead to a single global culture. Theoretically, a single global culture is characterized with the mixture of a wide variety of cultural features currently observable in the cultures of nations around the world. Through global interactions, inclusive of communications and international travel, the world moves toward this single global culture. The way the Internet influences international and intercultural relations shows that a single global culture is possible.
The Internet facilitates widespread and frequent international sharing of cultural traits. For example, global access to online information on cultural clothing styles contributes to the adoption of such styles in various clothing design and production worldwide. The Internet also facilitates the global popularization of various local cuisines. It affects even the vocabularies people use. In this regard, the Internet is a tool and platform for cultural learning. It promotes learning of new cultural traits through online communication and information access. This learning leads to a stronger commonality among cultures. This learning also facilitates better appreciation of cultural differences, which in turn promote even more cultural learning. Thus, the cycle continues.
The Internet and Personal Relationships: Pros and Cons
Today, relationships are formed and maintained through online and offline means. The Internet allows people to mask physical appearance. In online communication, people tend to focus on the message instead of the way a person looks.
However, using the Internet for personal relationships has disadvantages. Facial expressions are oftentimes obscured even when web cameras are used. It is also difficult to know one’s personality and character through online communication. Thus, the Internet is limited in showing emotions, personality, character, facial expressions, humor, and other human characteristics.
The Internet and Its Own Culture
The Internet has its own culture, which encompasses many societal cultures. This new online culture can be considered as a different aspect of human existence. It does not necessarily interfere or replace existing cultures. Surfers, chatters, merchants and buyers, news agencies, and a host of other online entities are online to form and experience the Internet’s culture. People communicate and present themselves differently online than offline. This culture influences the behaviors people bring to the offline world, thereby also contributing to change in offline culture.
Despite the Internet’s having its own culture, offline cultures will remain different. In his book Internet Culture, David Porter discusses the Internet’s lack of effectiveness for fundamental changes in cultures:
The culture that the Net embodies […] is a product of the peculiar conditions of virtual acquaintance that prevail online, a collective adaptation to the high frequency of anonymous, experimental, and even fleeting encounters familiar to anyone who has ventured into a newsgroup debate. The majority of one’s correspondents in cyberspace, after all, have no bodies, no faces, no histories beyond what they may choose to reveal. There are no vocal inflections, no signatures, no gestures or embraces. There are words, but they often seem words stripped of context, words desperately burdened by the lack of the other familiar markers of identity in this strange, ethereal realm. (xi)
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