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This would be better as a discussion since there are so many factors that different people might bring up.
For me, the main benefit of the internet for American culture (culture, as opposed to the economy or society) is that it has helped to make it easier for people to keep in touch with one another. American culture is seen as atomistic and individualistic and people tend to easily lose touch with one another. The internet (through things like Facebook, Twitter and, before that, email) makes it much easier to stay in touch and to maintain a sense of community in American culture.
A major negative impact of the internet might be called the "coarsening" of American culture. People are used to saying horrible things about one another on the internet that they would not typically say in person. The internet has also helped to sexualize American culture even more with the easy access to pornography and the ability to do things like "sexting."
I think that access to the Internet has made us a culture of people who are interested in getting information, but not as discerning about the source of that information. The Internet is such a quick and easy thing to access -- anytime you have a question you can just hop on the computer and "google" for an answer. The problem is, there isn't always just one clear answer, and much of what is written on the Internet is only personal opinion and not vetted in any way. People are so busy getting the answer, but they may not take the time to read several different web pages to look for consistency in the answer.
The obvious benefit to society of the web is the availability to almost every human being of instant world-wide communication. Even remote tribes in third world countries have access to the web via satellites.
Resulting benefits: Tyrannies exposed. World wide standards of human rights are achieved. Example: recent Middle East revolts toward democracy. There is a worldwide exposure of cultures to one another, resulting in increased tolerance, compassion and understanding.
Down side: More reliable and academic information sources are ignored. Newspapers will be phased out. The U.S. Postal Service is in decline. Interpersonal relationships are hindered in terms of reduced conversational ability, impaired social interaction due to distraction with hand-helds, lost ability to spell, compose and write, increased motor vehicle accidents due to distraction. There is a deleterious effect on the creative arts.
Easier access to communication, information and forms of entertainment are just a few ways that the Internet has so powerfully affected our culture. Standard land-line telephones and letter-writing have practically become things of the past, replaced by Internet phones, Facebook, emails, etc. A person no longer needs to make a trip to the library or consult multiple volumes of an encyclopedia with research information so handy online. As for entertainment, the possibilities are endless: Downloading music, watching movies and TV shows, and gaming are now common pasttimes for most people.
Clearly there are lots of positives in the way that the web allows us to connect with each other and form new connections, and the way that it disperses knowledge so efficiently and effectively. However, with any good thing, there are clearly a number of negative aspects, and the way that the web has also been used to spread things such as pornography and how it has allowed terrorists to communicate and mobilise themselves is something that is definitely negative.
While the positives of the Web have been stated wonderfully in the previous posts, I feel the one main negative aspect of the Web relates to the laziness of society today. Many students no longer do true research. Google simply does it for them. (Unless they have been taught properly, they trust virtually everything that they see on the Internet.) I cannot count how many essays have been "copy and paste" jobs.
On the whole, I like the Internet, and most other forms of technological progression, but as a high school teacher and now pre-school mother, I can't help but believe the Internet is somewhat responsible for the decline in teaching and learning the basics: reading, writing, and arithmetic.
I have to be honest, I'm not terribly keen on elementary school computer class. I'm simply not willing to admit that technology is necessary at that age, nor that getting kids comfortable with it at younger ages is going to make them better/smarter/whatever in the long run. Like kids need one more reason not to think for themselves. The Internet has provided one more GIGANTIC excuse for humans to let someone else do their thinking for them. And so quickly. And at the touch of a button.
Many have written about the positive aspects of the web, but there are also many negatives. Let me list a few of them.
First, because of instant messages, emails and other forms of web based communications, people are feeling a false sense of community. What we need is more face to face time. In addition, the web allows people to create a world for themselves. Again this is a false sense of community.
Second, there is a lot of unlawful and ethically dubious things on the web, which can taint young minds and lure people into dangerous situations.
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