Internet Ruins Everything, or Not


By Samuel Greengard

If you spend any time following what's generally described as the "news"--and I use this term loosely nowadays--you know how often stories pop up about how the Internet is wrecking society. You'd think cyberbullying, child porn, distracted driving, flame wars and people cheating on their spouses threaten Western civilization.

These are serious problems, of course. However, things often become distorted through the prism of the media. Worse, people frequently fail to separate the behavior from the tool that's used to commit the "crime." I wonder if, in our grandparent's generation, society blamed light bulbs for making it easier to commit forgery 24x7 or eyeglasses for making it easier to view French postcards.

A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project survey examined the way people use the Internet. It found that 75 percent of American adults are active in some kind of volunteer group or organization and these individuals are typically more active within these groups than the general population. We're talking PTA, Boy Scouts, political groups, church groups, civic organizations.

Overall, 83 percent of the 2,303 individuals surveyed said that the Internet has helped them keep up with news and information about these organizations. In addition, 74 percent report that the Internet has positively affected their ability to organize activities for these groups, and 71 percent say that it has helped them involve friends. Nearly three-quarters also noted that they have received emotional support or assistance from others through the Internet.

The point? It's far too easy to lose sight of all the positives amid the negatives--or at least perceived negatives. The same holds true within organizations, where exception-based thinking can transform risk into paralysis. It's essential to find ways to integrate social media, employee devices and other consumer tools. There will always be cases of abuse but the risk of losing cred with employees and falling behind the competitive curve is a bigger risk.