The internet is less than two decades old but its impact has been felt by almost everyone in the global village. It has not only revolutionized our personal interaction habits but has also impacted greatly on other spheres of our life, most notably the economy. In many societies, the digital technology has not only influenced the political communication but also the whole political systems. Shapiro (1999) suggests that the digital technology has captured the attention of everyone from the media, government and the general public.
Although the invention of the internet has brought with it some negative aspects, the digital technology has been hailed as the man’s new road to the better world. This paper will try to discuss some of the aspects of the internet that have continuously impacted on our social and political behaviours as citizens. Computers and the internet have greatly facilitated and expanded the individuals’ capacities in every sector of the society. Gurstein (2000) contends that the new ICTs have impacted almost everyone from institutions to business to organizations to the political arena.
The impact has been so great that every sector of our society feels obliged to embrace the information communication technology in order to either improve the running of the government, community networking or to improve the citizen participation in the new information society. Terms such as “citizen networks”, “digital cities” or “e-governments” have become common expressions these days. They simply imply the new ways of interactions that exist between the governed and the government and new ideas regarding the metropolitan policies, through the use of electronic media (Sclove, 1995).
The urban settings, built landscape as well as the social setting in our society, has undergone tremendous transformation from the last decade into the new millennium. The citizens have also not been left behind in this era of transformation. What we consider space, time, and our perception of politics as well as what we consider public or private and local or global has greatly changed. The advancement in the information communication technology has largely contributed to the changes in our cities and contemporary societies (Tsagarousianou, Tambini, & Bryan, 1998).
There is a new concept that has caught on with most people in our society concerning governance. The term “electronic democracy” though has been in use since 1960s when most activists introduced a number of communication medias like free radio stations, to make the governments more accountable and responsive to its citizens, has found its way back in the advent of the internet (Sclove, 1995). Internet is currently being used to marshal grassroots groups to support a certain cause by most civil activists.
There is also a growing mass of citizen initiatives that help to shape public opinion and thus influencing policies both at the national and local level. The internet therefore has greatly challenged the hitherto monopolies of the most political classes through better communication networks that have empowered the citizens to create a form of democracy in the society (Schuler, 1998). Today, many cities around the globe have created home pages in the internet and forums for interaction with their city residents.
Governments around the world both at the local and national level in developed and developing nations alike, have invested in e-government projects through networks that enable citizens access to government structures, engage in online transactions or to get information on government policies. Some of these networks and sites have enable citizens to participate in most decision making regarding the management of urban habitats (Underwood, 2002). The internet has great potential to amass groups of people persuasive to certain ideologies.
Many organizations now have websites which they use not only to communicate with their members but to recruit more like-minded individuals into their groups. Indeed the internet has become one of the major tools for lobbying citizens to a particular cause. Such organizations as the Internet Society and Voters Frontier Foundation have been very active in recruiting and educating the public on political issues in America (Tsagarousianou, Tambini, & Bryan, 1998). These groups have greatly contributed to the policy making processes through intensive lobbying.
The internet has therefore provided a better platform for the citizens to actively participate in the political arena. This development has actually dealt a big blow to the interest group politics that have gone on over the years (Davis, 1999). The internet has impacted greatly on how we interact these days. Due to its widespread and accessibility, the information communication technology has completely changed the forms of social engagements. Today, there are numerous social networking sites that have increased the speed at which we do interact and organize our social activities.
The most notable ones are MySpace and Facebook, which have simply taken the social interactions to the next level. These sites not only make it easier to keep in touch with friends and family members but enable subscribers to find other friends online. The era of information communication has ushered in a new way of keeping contacts with others no matter the distance between us. In a nutshell, the internet has reduced the world to a global village where everyone can be reached simply by a few clicks of the mouse (Subrahmanyam & Greenfield, 2008).
The social networking sites have also been very important in educating the public on social and political problems afflicting the society. There are groups of people who have formed social forums and recruited individuals with like-minded views on the social and political events in the country. Members would be easily reached through the internet and topics as well as current affairs discussed. These forums have been quite helpful in bringing change in the political and social arenas in our country.
It is the emergence of the internet as a political tool that some countries like the Myanmar, Iran and China have censored its usage among their citizens. These countries have restricted contents of political and religious materials that are accessible to their citizens (Shapiro, 1999). Again, a new internet phenomenon has emerged reshaping the politics and political activities in many countries around the global. What has been referred to as the internet activism has caught on in many countries and political players and citizens alike have embraced internet to win masses into their camps and political groupings (Tolbert, & McNeal, 2003).
The current United States president Barrack Obama owes much of his political success to the internet. He amassed overwhelming campaign funds that enabled him outmuscle his opponents in the 2008 elections simply by recruiting a greater mass of followers through the internet. The citizens who were eager for change contributed wholeheartedly to this cause through internet donation. What was most remarkable was the overwhelming following Obama was able to attract over a short period of time in politics.
Those who contributed included even non-Americans, who found it easier because of the internet. The internet has also provided leisure activities to its users through social entertainment sites. Currently, there are a number of forums that provide games, videos, and cartoons to entertain internet users. The internet has also enabled easy access to news and information. People these days are able to watch and listen to news, book for vacations, get information on weather and many other things of their interest.
There are also thousands of blog sites that have not only provided a platform of communication but have enabled most people to interact by sharing views on various happenings around them. The blog sites have also become political tools most citizens use to lobby people onto their way of thinking (Rodgers, 2003). During the early stages of its development, in the early 1990s, the digital technology led to what many considered internet-euphoria. Many optimists believe it was the new dawn to mankind’s participation in social, political as well as economic spheres in his society.
These euphoric evaluation has somewhat changed over the years as more people are now becoming more aware of the dangers technological advancement may pose to the society (Engel, & Keller, 2000). There is the issue of lack of internet safety as the social networking sites have proved to be. The critics of internet claim that it may increase cyber thefts or deceits because one may be able to steal one’s identity especially from the social networking sites. The challenges posed by the internet to the political activities have been cited as some propaganda wars between nations which may spill over into real battles (Tolbert, & McNeal, 2003).
Conclusion The internet has profound altered our societal operation both in political and social spheres. The citizens will continue to access vital information that would eventually empower them which in turn will reshape the politics and political class that have long governed with their interest-based policies. Again, the internet has proved to be a better social tool in our society because it has made interaction easier than before. However, there are a few challenges that must be overcome to make it safer for every user.