More than 1.5 billion people across the world have access to the internet, including about 220 million people in both China and the US. The number of mobile phone subscribers worldwide is approximately 4 billion.
There is an ongoing debate about the effects of these new technologies on social relations and personal identity. The fact that most interpersonal communication in the Western world is done remotely, mediated by technology, gave rise to a variety of theories and observations.
Some critics claim that the internet brings about personal isolation, anxiety, and creates socially-awkward individuals that cannot foster any ‘real’ or ‘meaningful’ relationships with others. Others claim that the internet contributes to increased social activity, stronger personal ties, and an overall growth in social capital and trust levels. These are the general attitudes, with plenty of variations and combinations in between.
Regardless of which schools of thought one subscribes to, there is one questions that most critics seem to miss: the fact that a large – and growing – amount of our personal communication is now a commercial activity.
We can chat and see each other on our mobile phones as if we are in the same room, but we are being charged for it, by the second. After we pay an Internet Service Provider, we can spend time online, search, read, and exchange information with friends, but we do so in a commercial environment where our every move is closely monitored by marketers, who feed us with ads chosen to fit our interests and demographic background.
Regardless of whether or not the internet makes us more or less social, it definitely makes us better consumers. It allows us to make someone rich by doing the things that we could otherwise do for free. And we love it in return.