Why is society so gullible

Internet users are gullible, watch less television and engage in more social activities than non-users

The new results of the World Internet Project indicate astonishing differences in different countries

The Internet has become a mass medium at least since the end of the 1990s, at least in the rich industrialized countries that have transformed into an information society. Although it differs from conventional mass media primarily in the wide variety of interactive options it offers, its use is now widely spread among the population. The typical Internet user as an easily identifiable social group no longer exists, if it ever existed, even if in the beginning the Internet was certainly used largely by students and academics. As a mass medium, the Internet intervenes in society and changes everyday life - and despite the same technology, it is not uniform in all cultures. That is arguably the main finding of the new World Internet Project report.

The World Internet Project was founded at the UCLA Center for Communication Policy at the time of the Internet boom in 1999 to find out - with funds from companies such as AOL, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Sony, Verizon, and the National Cable Television Association - how the Internet was "Social, political, cultural and economic behavior among Internet users and non-users". Every year, surveys are to be carried out with international partners in different countries with the aim of recording the changes caused by the new medium over the period of an entire generation, including the differences in different cultures (How are computers and the Internet changing the world?).

For example, according to the new report from the UCLA World Internet Project, which has polled 14 countries (Germany, UK, Italy, Macau, Japan, Sweden, Singapore, Spain, South Korea, Taiwan, Hungary, USA), there appears to be a digital divide between the number of women and men when it comes to using the Internet. The Internet is still more of a male domain, but this gender gap varies greatly from country to country (although the comparability of the results in the individual countries suffers from the fact that one person aged 12 and over was interviewed in the other, and only adults in the other or that the survey time also varies between 2001 and 2003). Overall, 8 percent more men than women use the Internet. The difference is smallest in Sweden (67.7 / 64.4), the USA (73.1 / 69), Taiwan (25.1 / 23.5) and Hungary (20.3 / 15.1), Germany (50.4 / 41.7) is already above average. In Italy (41.7 / 21.5) or Spain (46.4 / 27.2) one can definitely speak of a "digital divide" that is larger than in South Korea (67.8 / 53.8) , Singapore (47.2 / 34) or Makau (37.8 / 28.8).

Since people's time is no longer there, increased Internet use must come at the expense of other activities (or sleep). According to the survey, it can be stated that television consumption is affected in all countries. How reliable such figures are is another question; at least, according to the respondents, television consumption has decreased by an average of 5.2 hours per week for Internet users, most of all in Chile or Hungary. Of course, just as with the gender difference with regard to Internet use, it would be interesting to see why this is the same in one country and different in the other. Globally, according to Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, Internet time is being siphoned off from television consumption: "We are seeing a huge change in behavior that we are only just beginning to explore."

It is also astonishing that a considerable number of Internet users now seem to assume that the information on the Internet is also reliable. Half of the respondents said the information was always or mostly reliable and accurate. South Koreans seem to trust the Internet the most, and Americans are not very skeptical either. Only 7.1 percent say that no or only some information is trustworthy. The most skeptical are the Swedes (36) and the Japanese (25.3), followed by Germany (18.5) and Singapore (18.3).

Allegedly, internet users in all countries also spend more time on social activities (meeting friends, exercising ...) than non-users. Normally they should also read more books, which is only not the case in Germany and the USA. And the report offers another astonishing result. It is true that internet usage is highest in the richest quarter of the population, while in the poorest quarter only 20 percent use the internet on average. Hungary (1.6) and Italy (10.6) set negative records. That seems to be completely different in Sweden, South Korea and the USA, where almost half of the poor also have access to the Internet. At 27.8 percent, Germany is a little above average, even if the digital divide is still very clear here.

But surveys have the fact that you can't trust everything the respondents say, and the results also depend on the questions asked. One can therefore only agree with Andrew McKay's comment:

So what does this tell us? Not much, I'm afraid. The idea of ​​a socially-adjusted, well-exercised, all-believing, non-TV watching society is pretty far-fetched to begin with; the concept that heavy Internet users are any better off than our brethren is hard to swallow. I should know: I'm online about 17 hours a day. I don't believe anything I read, I haven't exercised in 7 months, and I have trouble hailing a cab in public, let alone being friendly and social. No, I think our best learning is this: never trust anyone who's willing to tell you their Web surfing habits.

(Florian Rötzer)

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