The pros and cons of having the internet at your fingertips

Ahead of International Day of Universal Access to Information, Criodán looks at how the internet and smartphones have changed the way we view the world

Written by Criodan O'Murchu


The 28th of September is recognised as the International Day for Universal Access to Information. In the 21st Century we are extremely lucky to have one of mankind’s most powerful creations often within our grasp: our smartphones. Coupled with access to the internet and a phone becomes a tool almost as amazing and innovative as the wheel, in my opinion.

Want to learn something new? Want to check the news in a country thousands of kilometres away? You can. With a couple taps of your thumbs you can get all the information you could ever want or need. It’s really quite amazing. Nowadays with our smartphones (does anyone born after 2010 call them that?) we have unrivalled ability to contact our friends the world over, watch YouTube until our eyes bleed and of course, find almost any information which we could ever desire. It is a blessing and a curse in some people’s minds, which I can understand. There are those who have harmful ideas and use the openness of the internet in a spiteful manner. However, there’s always a bad apple in a bunch and I fully believe the benefits of information outweigh the downfalls.

So, what is information? Google defines information as, “facts provided or learned about something or someone.” Facts must be true, otherwise they are not facts, but opinions. Nowadays, the media seems to promote a firestorm of ‘news’ but not facts and we should maintain a higher standard of accurate reporting rather than rapid fire hourly delivery and updates. (Check out a previous article of mine on critical thinking). It is the thinking of many, myself included, that information should be freely and readily accessible to anyone within reason. There are few things more powerful than an army, but education is one of them. It is often not the freedom fighters or armies that overthrow a government or win wars. It is in fact the populous who become informed and rise against their dictator, their corrupt leadership or police force. Knowledge is a powerful instrument. It allows us to develop opinions and personal viewpoints on issues. It helps us grow taller and stronger, it lets us live longer, it builds skyscrapers and oil-rigs, it flies us on holidays and it gets us to the moon (whether you believe it or not!).

Nowadays more people than ever can access the internet and gain knowledge that previously may not have been available to them. This is tremendously important in order to keep up with the increasing science and technological needs the world over. Maybe, if someone in Timbuktu had access to medical research 50 years ago, they would have found a cure for male pattern baldness. Who knows? One of my hopes is that someone out there now can find, for example, a cure for cancer. Imagine all the new possibilities. Maybe I am too optimistic, but it can’t hurt to dream a little…

Unfortunately, with the world now so interlinked and connectable, there are negative consequences. In recent years bullying, in particular cyber-bullying, has been on the rise. Children as young as nine have social media accounts. Immaturity tied in with anonymity can create a nasty environment for a child or young teen to grow up in. Parents have to take more responsibility for their children in this modern age. It is a rocky situation that can very easily get out of hand. Everyone’s brain chemistry is different and someone can interpret something seemingly harmless as being very negative. As my mother always said, “If you don’t have something nice to say then don’t say anything!”  

Social media is a fantastic tool and while I disagree with the mindset that it’s leading to less ‘real interaction’ there are certain dangers with feelings of insecurity, lack of connection and spending too much time online. There is a world outside away from the phone, the tablet and television.

Social engineering is another issue in online modern times. For anyone unfamiliar, social engineering is a process of manipulating people to tell personal information or details. An example would be a fake bank teller asking for your credit card details via email. Another common one is a Nigerian Prince who wants to send you lots of money (if anyone does know a rich Nigerian Prince, please send him my way – Sincerely, a broke college student). All he needs is your PPS, mother’s maiden name and bank account number – simples! Your information is personal and shouldn’t be shared with anyone. However online you see so much oversharing. People don’t need to know every little detail of your life. You should value your privacy and enjoy what’s going on in front of you and don’t worry about posting it online.

Without information the world cannot progress and without progress, is life worth living? I truly believe that we should continuously strive to improve every aspect of our lives – technology, medicine, engineering, etc. However, we should realise the privilege we have by having access to so much information. Information allows us to revolt, to protest our politics, to ask for change, to demand answers and to learn from past mistakes. This day may pass by like any other but it is a time to stand up for the little guy and ask for something better in the nations who don’t have the access to information like we do.  

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