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|September 17, 2019|
What if the Internet stopped for a day?
Jeff Hancock likes to give his Stanford University students weekend assignments that let them experience concepts discussed in class for themselves. Before 2008, he would sometimes challenge his students to stay off the internet for 48 hours and then discuss how it affected them. But when Hancock returned to work in 2009, after a year-long sabbatical, things had changed.
“When I tried to introduce the task, there was a class revolt,” says Hancock, who studies the psychological and social processes involved in online communication. “The students emphatically said the assignment was impossible and unfair.”
They argued that going offline even for a weekend would prevent them from completing work in other classes, ruin their social lives, and make their friends and family worry that something terrible had happened to them. Hancock had to concede and cancelled the activity – and he’s never attempted it again. “That was 2009, and now with mobile as present as it is, I don’t even know what students would do if I asked them to do that,” he says. “They’d probably report me to the university president.”
But with our always-connected lifestyles, the question is now more relevant than ever: what would happen if the internet stopped for a day? It turns out the impact might not be quite what you'd expect.
In 1995, fewer than 1% of the world’s population was online. The internet was a curiosity, used mostly by people in the West. Fast-forward 20 years and today more than 3.5bn people have an internet connection – nearly half of all humans on the planet – and the number is growing at a rate of around 10 people a second.
According to the Pew Research Centre, a fifth of all Americans say they use the internet “almost constantly” and 73% say they use it at least daily.
“One of the biggest problems with the internet today is that people take it for granted – yet they don’t understand the degree to which we’ve allowed it to infiltrate almost every aspect of our lives,” says William Dutton at Michigan State University, who is the author of the book Society and the Internet. “They don’t even think about not having access to it.”
Losing the internet may make people recognize its importance in their lives, but we would soon be taking it for granted again, says Hancock. “I’d like to say an internet blackout would cause a shift in our thinking, but I don’t think it would.” Even so, that’s still not enough to persuade his students to give it up for a weekend. (Source: BBC)
Story Date: February 13, 2017