Americans have finally found something we (mostly) agree on.
The vast majority of internet users think it brings value to their lives.
That’s right, a full 88 percent of us perceive of the internet and technology as contributing positively to our lives, according to a recent study published by the Pew Research Center.
Those numbers are down a bit from four years ago when 90 percent said the internet has been “mostly a good thing” for them. Still it’s hard to ignore the positive feelings most of us have for the internet.
That’s good for businesses and community organizers who ponder the value in posting their information on websites and sharing other relevant online content.
That’s also good news for people whose job it is to develop websites, write web content, and make information easy to find online.
It’s not good news for the rest of society, at least not in the eyes of those surveyed for this study. While Americans generally agree the Internet has been good for us on an individual basis, some 70 percent think it’s been mostly a good thing for society. That percentage looks strong, but it’s down from 76 percent in 2014.
Slightly less surprising is our perception of the Internet based on age. Turns out that as we get older, we become a little more skeptical of the internet’s value.
“This shift in opinion regarding the ultimate social impact of the internet is particularly stark among older Americans, despite the fact that older adults have been especially rapid adopters of consumer technologies such as social media and smartphones in recent years,” wrote Pew researchers Aaron Smith and Kenneth Olmstead.
“Today 64 percent of online adults ages 65 and older say the internet has been a mostly good thing for society. That represents a 14-point decline from the 78 percent who said this in 2014.”
Okay, maybe not “stark”. After all, more than 6 in 10 in this older age group think the Internet is mostly a “good thing.”
The study pointed to two other positive issues concerning our perception of the Internet.
First, those who feel good about the Internet enjoy having information close at hand. We value the ability to use technology to help us find answers quickly and efficiently.
The second most valuable positive service is connecting to others. We value the way tech allows us to stay close to the people we care about.
“Most mentioned how the internet makes information much easier and faster to access,” Smith and Olmstead reported.
“Meanwhile, 23 percent of this group mentioned the ability to connect with other people, or the ways in which the internet helps them keep more closely in touch with friends and family.”
More than two decades since its birth, the internet is continuing to fulfill its promise of connecting us to the world and the people in it.
For more information on this and other Pew studies, visit www.pewinternet.org.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup is a mere three weeks away.
Wait, why aren’t you celebrating the start of the only sporting event larger than the Super Bowl?
If you’re uninterested in the massive soccer (or football or futbol) spectacle, it’s easy to understand why.
The U.S. men’s soccer team failed to qualify, leaving many fans to turn to Twitter to revolt and rage, feeling a deep sting to our national pride.
We know this because, according to Jay Bavishi, partner manager for FIFA at Twitter, the United States is still the second most tweeted-about team (@ussoccer), right behind Japan (@JFA).
Chile (@LaRoja) didn’t qualify either. Yet like the United States, they also made the “most tweeted about teams” list.
“As you can see, despite the United States and Chile not qualifying for the tournament, excitement for this summer’s event has not waned as both teams are still among the most discussed on Twitter,” Bavishi said.
So, even after the United States was ousted from Cup contention months ago, we’re still talking about @ussoccer on Twitter. Why?
When you look back at those tweets about @ussoccer, they’re not pretty. I tend to shy away from the negative, but there was something very telling about our growing interest in soccer among those posts.
It’s no secret that the United States lags behind other countries in soccer appeal. But over the last decade, there has been a groundswell of interest based in cultural shifts – oh, and social media.
The shifts are clear: the introduction of youth soccer leagues; an influx of immigrants who brought with them a love for soccer; the introduction of Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996.
Sure, the MLS can’t touch the other major sports in ratings and revenues, but the fan base is just as fervent. MLS fans let their passion shine social media, in particular on Twitter, where they rally support for teams, communities and causes.
I noticed this first-hand while attending the International Association for Communication and Sport’s Summit at Indiana University a few weeks ago.
During one presentation, researcher Stephen Andon (Nova Southeastern University) discussed fan reaction to the Columbus Crew owner’s plan to move the team from Ohio.
Using the hashtag #SaveTheCrew, the rallying cry for Crew fans on Twitter and around the world set on keeping the team in Columbus, I tweeted a message of support for Andon’s research and for Ohio’s lone MLS team.
Within minutes, Crew fans were sharing that post, and interacting with Andon and other fans.
One fan even invited me to a tailgate party in Columbus.
It’s clear that soccer in the United States doesn’t have the power of other major league sports. But what it lacks in money and media exposure it more than makes up for in a passionate fan base on social media.
I have a wallet full of department store, gas station and restaurant loyalty program cards. Some I use on a nearly daily basis. Sheetz, Giant Eagle, Panera Bread, and others get frequent swipes.
The others? Not so much.
In fact, I have a stack of loyalty cards saved in a plastic container, tucked away in the family junk drawer, because I foolishly think I’ll start frequenting those businesses some day.
When a cashier says, “Hey, if you join our loyalty program, you can get 20-percent off your purchase today. And it’s free,” I’m usually game.
Okay, I get it. It’s their job to get me to sign up. And okay, the loyalty program is not technically free. I’m paying for those benefits with my data and info on my purchasing behaviors.
Obviously I have no major hang-ups with loyalty programs or giving them my data in order to tailor shopping and dining experiences to my tastes. I am, after all, the stereotypical middle-aged Dad who likes his grocery discounts, free restaurant appetizers, and fuel perks.
But being connected to my favorite businesses is important to me, too – businesses that serve my needs and that want to have a relationship with me through these programs.
I just wish it didn’t involve so many darn cards.
So, it was with both excitement and utter terror this week when reports surfaced of Sweden’s new human microchip implant initiative.
Thousands of Swedes agreed to be “chipped,” a process that includes injecting a tiny microchip under the skin to be used in place of credit cards, workplace IDs, gym memberships, and those pesky loyalty cards.
Conspiracy theorists have taken to the streets (and message boards) to protest chipping and offer end-of-days warnings. Futurists and technophiles have, for the most part, offered a few cautions while also praising the possibilities for implementing this technology.
It’s safe to say I fall somewhere in between those favoring the new tech and those scared to death of it.
Chip implants are actually old news for the Swedes. They’ve been at it since 2015.
What’s new in this iteration is the level of information that can be stored on a chip. Also, aside from New World Order fears are more pressing matters, such as privacy and security (e.g., hacking an chip), though it seems for the time-being some are willing to ignore these issues in trade for convenience.
This begs the question for Swedes and others welcoming a future of wrist or hand or, dare I say, forehead scanning: how much are we willing to sacrifice for access to cheap food, clothes, and gas?
Convenience is a factor when embracing or rejecting chip implants. Injecting a chip under our skin may come with a price most aren’t willing to pay, even if it means missing out on a few restaurant discounts.
Laughter filled Gate A10 of the Pittsburgh International Airport as I exited the moving walkway. It was late January and I distinctly remember being tired and cold and done with winter.
Hearing the glee echo through the cavernous terminal warmed my heart.
It’s not often you hear those sounds in an airport terminal – far away from the eruptions of joyous reunions in places like baggage claim and curbside pick-ups.
This kind of infectious laughter can only be described as rowdy squeals, snorts and happy tears. Someone lets out an unexpected laugh so genuine, so pure, so hearty that everyone soon joins in with a laugh or, at the very least, a smile.
These laughs weren’t caused by a reunion, or the anticipation of a great adventure, or giddiness brought on by a few too many drinks from the restaurant adjacent to our gate.
What fueled this amusement was nothing more than a social media post; a video, to be precise. That’s it.
How we got to that point, however, is what really strengthened my hope in humanity.
A 20-something young man clad in black sweatpants, a LeBron James jersey, black flip-flops and white socks was mindlessly scanning his social media feeds. “I was bored,” he told me in the aftermath of the laughter.
“I had my sound up, and when I scrolled over that video, it was probably a little too loud. She heard it and started laughing. Like really laughing.”
The “she” he was referring to was a wonderfully gregarious woman, 70-something (my best guess), and just as pleasant as the best grandma image you can muster.
She was sitting beside him, waiting to board the plane, minding her own business, and – as he recalled – she just reacted to the sound of a baby laughing on the video and “looked at my phone to see what was making so much noise.”
The video was of a bright-eyed baby, sitting mid-floor, being playfully circled by the family dog. It was almost as if the dog knew it was entertaining the baby – clearly taking the laughter as a sign of approval.
“When she saw it, she was just laughing so hard, I gave her my phone so she could see it closer,” he said. “But then she started laughing louder, and everyone around us did too,” he added.
We weren’t laughing at her. We weren’t laughing at the video. We were laughing with her and the pure joy she exuded.
She handed the phone back to the young man and simply said, “Thank you. I needed that.”
“I think everyone needed that,” he replied.
This laughter contagion creates the kind of connection to others we need today more than ever (yes, even strangers in an airport), to celebrate moments that connect through happiness – albeit with a little help from an entertaining video.
I don’t really know anyone on my father’s side of the family. He didn’t talk much, and when he did, it was never about his family.
What I knew was limited to weird bits about step-brothers, an alcoholic mother and years spent bouncing around through Illinois’ foster care system. It sounded bleak, so I never really pressed the issue for fear of drumming up some unnecessary pain.
As kids, my siblings and I met his cousin once as she was passing through our town. Or was it an aunt? I really can’t remember. I was 10 years old and the moment so fleeting and so long ago that the memory is now hazy.
Thanks to Facebook, I’ve connected with another family member – Ruby, my father’s cousin. She is a wealth of information about his past, supplying me with great pictures of his parents and other relatives, many of whom died before I was even born. My grandfather looks very tall in the pictures, which helps to explain my hulking 6-foot-8-inch frame.
But that’s it. A random visit from someone I can’t remember and a Facebook friend who sends the occasional picture serve as my only connections to his past.
He died a few years ago, right around the time consumer-based DNA testing was becoming readily available in the United States.
23andMe and a smattering of other DNA ancestry services are now part of our everyday lexicon, luring us with the promise of a deeper sense of genetic heritage in exchange for a little saliva, $150 and the ability to store our DNA profile on some random computer in California.
As a researcher and writer, the offer to have more data was enticing. But if I’m being honest, it really came from a longing to learn more of the truth behind what little I already knew of my dad’s story.
Unfortunately, what I found told me very little about his life.
What it did tell me was that my life was bigger than the DNA contributions of one person, painting a bigger picture of a vast lineage, a family journey from places such as England, Ireland, Germany and Switzerland.
Buying into the DNA hype comes with risks. I get it. For me, it seemed like the secondary reward was knowing more about my genetic health, wellness traits and other reports these services provide.
What I didn’t expect was a connection to a possible paternal relative. “Open Sharing,” or connecting with DNA relatives who use the service, connected me to a third or fourth cousin (we share a great-great grandfather on my father’s side). She reached out, asking questions to see if we shared other connections.
I didn’t learn more about my father from the DNA sample, but maybe I’ve made a connection to his past and my family that wasn’t there just a few short years ago.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.