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The digital world may be making it easier for us to communicate and do things, but it’s certainly not bringing happiness to many users – and there are signs of growing discontent.
A new survey of the realities of modern life, conducted by communications company Euro RSCG Worldwide, has found that the rate of technological change has helped push aside things we value, including a meaningful connection to the natural world and a sense of community.
Gabrielle Rosario, head of Digital Strategy at 4D Euro RSCG SA, says working with research partner Market Probe International, 7 213 adults in 19 countries, including SA, were surveyed, representing a combined population of 3.6 billion.
“South Africa’s rapidly growing connectivity, specifically in the mobile sphere, means more and more people are feeling the effects of the discord created by the digital world. We know from Arthur Goldstuck’s recent Internet Matters Report that South Africa’s internet user base grew by 25 percent between 2010 and 2011. Penetration is now approaching 20 percent of the population and is set to grow rapidly with services such as wi-fi availability on flights and massive leaps in undersea cable capacity. According to the Experience Curve, it takes at least five years for the average individual’s internet usage to develop from a physical internet connection to online self-actualisation.”
Rosario said by the end of 2008, 3.2 million South Africans had been online for five years. The number grew to 3.75 million in 2011.
“The online market is suddenly real; the online user is suddenly experienced. Social media like blogging, which took off in 2008, is mainstream. Social and business networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn have taken South Africa by storm, and it all appears to have happened overnight. This has raised the need to understand the effect this connected world is having on South African society and where it is heading.”
Marianne Hurstel, vice-president, BETC Euro RSCG and global chief strategy officer, Euro RSCG Worldwide, said the study uncovered “a strong sense of ambivalence toward the future”.
“While consumers are embracing all the new technologies and conveniences… they are also wistful about those aspects of life – including simplicity, intellectuality, and strong ties to nature’s rhythms – that are slipping away. There is a growing sense that we need to take some time to think about the direction in which we’re moving and whether we’re going to be happy with where we end up.”
Highlights of the study include:
l The idea of the future doesn’t make us dream any more. Sixty percent of global respondents believe society is moving in the wrong direction and four in 10 sometimes feel they’re wasting their lives. Seventy-two percent worry about moral decline.
l While just 10 percent believe digital technology will have a negative effect overall on the world, 42 percent believe it’s too soon to tell – suggesting a relatively strong level of distrust and unease about what is to come.
l Are people getting dumber? Half the sample worry digital technology and multitasking are impairing our ability to think deeply and to concentrate on one task at a time. Around two-thirds believe society has become too shallow.
l Fifty-eight percent worry we’re losing the ability to engage in civil debate. Seven in 10 worry about the rise in political extremism, and 64 percent are worried about the rise of paranoia and conspiracy theories.
l More than a quarter of the sample say social networking is making them less satisfied with their lives.
l Four in 10 respondents say they would happier if they had less stuff.
l Nearly three-quarters of respondents around the world are moderately to extremely worried about the growing gap between rich and poor.
Tom Morton, chief strategic officer, Euro RSCG New York, and co-chief strategy officer Euro RSCG North America, said the study revealed a number of emerging concerns.
“First is the fear that social media and online data collection are chiselling away at our right to privacy. A majority worry technology is robbing us of our privacy, and six in 10 think people are wrong to share so much of their personal thoughts and experiences online. This isn’t an outsider’s or laggard’s concern: two-thirds of millennials believe that their generation has no sense of personal privacy.”
He adds: “At the same time, people worry that hyperconnectivity is actually making us feel less connected. More than half the sample worry that digital communication is weakening human-to-human bonds.”
Hurstel adds: “We’re going to see more of a push for a sort of ‘hybrid’ way of living that combines the best of the old and new – keeping current conveniences while holding fast to those traditions and values that are in danger of disappearing.” - Saturday Star