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In a previous post we talked about how the Internet was studied and criticized in its early days. At the time this essay was written, in 1993, television had been broadcast in the US for at least 52 years, since the first commercial broadcasts in 1941. If you count from the early days of experimental TV broadcasts in 1928, the technology had already been in use for 65 years.
The Internet is a much younger technology. ARPANET — the project that eventually became the Internet — was in use by researchers as early as 1970, but the later TCP/IP based network that we now call the Internet only became widely accessible to the public around 1995, when government regulations about commercial use were made less strict. That means that the Internet has had only a single generation to influence society.
The researchers’ interpretation of the Internet study we looked at earlier was that Internet use caused depression, but a similar study on TV done in 2008 found that unhappy people watch TV more. In other words, the conclusions of the researchers who did these very similar studies were exactly opposite in cause and effect.
Changes often make people uncomfortable. This is why even though the effects of widespread Internet access on society are probably no worse than the effects of TV broadcasting, many people have a stronger reaction to the changes the Internet has caused. We are closer to the impact, and that makes it seem more dramatic.
People in their 30s or older remember a time before the Internet, and the older generations are the ones who have the strongest negative opinions of the technology. Ironically, their parents and grandparents had virtually the same opinion of television that they have of the Internet.