Module Code and Title
Critically evaluate the statement
“The growth in internet use has affected cultures around the world, leading to a westernized, homogenous world culture.”
Internet and World Culture
The internet and the increasing pace of connectivity has been one of the greatest impacts of technology on our times. In the space of a couple of decades, the world has come much closer together, and connectivity and exchange of ideas has flourished faster than ever before. This increasing impact has led to a significant amount of cross-cultural exchange of ideas across countries, geographies and continents. The exchange of ideas has created a common pool of ideas that are collectively accepted or rejected by the masses. The speed at which a fad or idea takes hold has increased manifold, and given tremendous amount of reach for individual voices across the planet.
Like any other previous idea that changed the world, the proliferation of the internet has created a number of divided viewpoints on the increased level of interaction possible today. Proponents have argued that the exchange of ideas has contributed to faster development and understanding between communities separated by thousands of miles. Its opponents however argue that the free mixing of ideas is affecting the uniqueness of thought action and behavior that classified various communities and regions, creating in its stead a uniform, homologous world where the majority of inhabitants on the planet share the same likes and dislikes, changing them more frequently than before, and thereby creating a culture that is uniformly pursuing the same things at the same time, with little to distinguish the uniqueness of each individual group or community.
Impact on language
One of the key areas where this is inherently visible is the impact on language. With English becoming the standard language for all communication, the presence of English words, vocabulary and ‘slang’ in even regional languages is being increasingly noticed. The proponents of this trend in Anglicization think of the Internet as a vast, flat space which enables the spread of knowledge, information and learning (ElBekraoui and Hokanson, n.d.). For this to happen effectively, they argue that the presence of a common language is critical. The argument is that language spreads and absorbs nuances from every other community that it comes in contact with. For example, many French, German and even Latin terms exist today in the English language. This has not diluted the language but instead has made it more robust. Having a common language promotes learning, democracy, and cultural understanding, and that the free flow of language is bound to create an interchange of thoughts and words between whatever other languages English comes in contact with. The worldwide acceptance of English as the universal language for sharing information among scientific, education, and business communities, has led to the thought that the English language is exerting an undue dominance over other regional languages which are likely to see initial dilution and eventual extinction as a result. The internet is seen as the key proponent that is bringing about this change.
In many ways the advent of the internet is compared to another momentous event in history, that of the Gutenberg press. Through the ability to reproduce and publish the written word, Gutenberg changed the world. In many ways, the ability to print the spoken words was a breakthrough that allowed propagation of the written word throughout the world. The impact of the internet is seen as something similar, with the language overcoming all barriers to become the medium of communication for a majority of the planet’s population. At no point has any language been spoken more by non-native speakers of the language as compared to native speakers (The Economist, 2012). And these non-native speakers are creating versions of the language that are beyond the native speakers. For example, the rise of phonetic slang in many languages used online has been due to the use of uniforms English language keyboards everywhere. Besides this other examples of the changing face of language has been the introduction and spread of non-vowel words in short text messages, thanks to the limitations of 140 characters imposed by internet based messaging tools. This is similar to the impact that the clash of Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Normans had on the Old English structure, giving way to the plain-speak that we have in common use today (Kleinman, 2010).
At the same time, there is little uniformity to be seen in the language across regions. Within each region, there is a tendency to intersperse local language words and expressions into even English conversation. This interaction then becomes culture or region-specific, and someone who is not from the same cultural background will have difficulty in understanding the context within which the particular expression has been used. Minor incidents these, but they clearly define the fact that ethno-cultural origins remain even in the use of a single language, even if the same are in a more diluted form than their original language. The rise of English may have pushed the use of the native language to a limited set of words, but the cultural identity of the native language speaker still remains strong. In many cases, internet users have developed a unique language that is restricted to the internet for use among a recognized group, and this creates subgroups which may exist in spite of being part of a greater community of English language users.
Impact on Youth Culture
One of the best places to gauge the impact of the internet has been its influence on youth culture. As internet and telecommunication accessibility expands, a greater proportion of the planet’s youth are now connected to the internet. The present generation is truly the internet generation. An online search reveals hundreds of videos of children barely able to walk or talk instinctively connecting to the internet to watch videos and playing games far more proficiently than even their twenty-something parents. If this is the impact that it has on toddlers, one can imagine the collective frenzy that it has generated among youth today. Social media platforms, messaging services, internet based gameplay and a host of other activities are available to the youth of today with the press of a button or rather, the flick of a finger. In today’s technology driven age, young people’s cultural consumption spans a large number of media artifacts that come from the internet – videos, music, articles, discussion forums, games and even interactive forums. Today’s schools also have a significant portion of student’s course work requiring their use of the internet. This has led to the rise of teenagers who are savvier at connecting to the internet and chatting with strangers online than they are in managing the social graces in a real conversation (Krotoski, 2011). This is one of the visible signs of the growing impact of the internet on youth of today.
Earlier, the culture of youth was shaped by the environment in which they grew up. This was a product of the neighborhoods in which they lived. For example, the rise of hip-hop came from the poor African American neighborhoods, and signified a sense of cultural identity with their surroundings. Dress, mannerisms, language and creative expression all originated from the environment in which the youth grew up in and shaped their approach to the world as well (Mesch, 2008). Communities were affected by the propagation of culture among youth. One of the manifestations of this culture was also in the form of crime statistics, with youth from the poorer neighborhoods forced to fraternize with other youth having criminal backgrounds, due to the lack of means and options to get away from the society induced identity. Today, the story is radically different. While the concept of neighborhood identity is fading away, a new identity is rising – that of the internet community. Here, youth with similar thoughts and ideologies congregate and form cliques which are shaped by common thought. While the concept of identity has changed, due to the universal permeation of the internet, it has offered youth a way out of restricted identity maps that their earlier generations were confined to. Today, it is more possible for a youth with scholastic inclinations to break away from the restrictions of his lower class neighborhood and identify himself with a group of similar scholarship oriented students, exchange ideas and build his future away from the local restrictions that define him (UNFPA, 2007). This is a tremendous impact. The internet allows everyone to express their individuality as well as choose the collective identity that they wish to associate with. In many ways, the internet has brought about true democracy, and this can be seen in the expression of youth culture today. Teenagers and adolescents are no longer restricted by identities of class, culture and gender, but have a better opportunity to make a life. With the rapid expansion of consumerism, food, dress and even tastes in music are finding a global audience among the youth community. City centers are beginning to resemble one another across continents, let alone states. However, Digital spaces are not exclusive conditions that stand outside the non-digital world. The presence of various elements in the non-digital world also drives interaction on the digital plane. Youth today have a platform to express their support or condemnation of various activities much faster thanks to the internet. While retaining individual identities, there has been a meeting of minds in various areas, and this applies across all aspects of youth culture, ranging from music, thoughts, ideas and expression. While many see this as a homologation of youth culture, there still exist pocket of unique identity – only they are more subtle than overt. Expression through choice of music, political affiliation, issues of public interest, and ideas has never been as diverse in a single environment as it has been on the internet. This, if anything indicates that individualism is stronger than ever- only now, it is expressed in thought and speech more than it is in the form of outer appearance or behavior. This is a refinement, and one may even consider it a process of evolution, as the difference between thoughts is brought forth stronger than the difference in outward manifestations.
The impact of the internet on various facets of our lives is increasingly visible. Social elements such as language and culture are the most impacted as these tend to give an appearance of merging into one great melting pot of homogeneity. However, a closer look at both aspects reveals that though there are areas where there has been a merging into common ground, the differences still persist. However, these differences are more nuanced than before, and reflected at a smaller scale than the stark contrasts seen in earlier generations. It is true that people dress and talk a lot more similarly than before, but the differences still persist and will continue to persist as individual identity reflects one’s culture, background and language upbringing. While the previous canvas of humanity may have had stark differences like that of a stained glass image, the differences today are more subtle, like an oil painting that employs mixing and merging on a canvas. However, these differences do exist and will remain indicators of the individual and the community. The final conclusion is therefore a mixed one – on one hand, the internet has brought about a degree of merging and homogeneity among the world’s populations, but the differences do remain as a reminder of one’s individuality.
ElBekraoui, M and Hokanson, B (n.d.) The Impact of the Internet on Language, available online at https://wiki.umn.edu/pub/DHA5399/Class15B/paperFinal2.pdf last viewed on 23 November 2014
Kleinman, Z (2010) How the internet is changing language, BBC News, available online at http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-10971949 last viewed on 23 November 2014
Krotoski, A (2011) Youth culture: teenage kicks in the digital age, The Guardian, available online at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/jun/26/untangling-web-krotoski-youth-culture last viewed on 23 November 2014.
Mesch, G (2008) The Internet and Youth Culture, IASC, available online at http://www.iasc-culture.org/THR/archives/YouthCulture/Mesch.pdf last viewed on 23 November 2014
The Economist (2012) Im in ur internets, creolizin ur English, available online at http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2012/12/internet-and-language-change last viewed on 23 November 2014
UNFPA (2007) Urban Youth Culture: Forging a New Identity, available online at http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2007/youth/english/story/angelo_youth.html last viewed on 23 November 2014