Many people have mixed emotions about the Internet. For rock legend John Mellencamp, the Internet is seen in far more stark terms.
Reuters reported Mellencamp as saying during a public seminar at the Grammy Museum, “I think the Internet is the most dangerous thing invented since the atomic bomb… It’s destroyed the music business. It’s going to destroy the movie business.”
Some may think Mellencamp’s words are hyperbole coming from an artist looking for publicity. But in fact the Internet and the new technologies it has spawned have had a profound impact on our lives. As a result some things will never be the same. Some institutions have suffered mightily at the hands of the Internet and online technology.
Printed newspapers. The Internet has rendered the printed form of news obsolete, and the newspaper is sadly going the way of the typewriter and the horse-and-buggy. Even with updated late editions, the printed newspaper is already out-of-date by the time it hits the streets. Conversely, the news on the Internet can be refreshed constantly to stay current. And people can visit specific websites for information of interest to them. For example, someone seeking the baseball box scores can find them at a sports website. The box scores would even include the late night games from the West Coast that are often missing in East Coast printed newspapers. The Internet also offers more variety. It is far more interesting to view headlines from news sources in several different cities than to read page 17 of a local printed paper. The Internet gobbled up ad revenue from printed newspapers. As advertising revenues shrank, so did the size of printed newspapers. The downsizing meant whole departments, such as those that provided coverage of local government meetings, were eliminated. And this meant there were even fewer reasons for someone to go out and buy a newspaper. It was a vicious cycle-as the paper shrunk in size, the audience shrunk even more, and this led to further reductions in staff and in content. Newspapers were able to coexist with radio and television. But they cannot survive the onslaught of the Internet.
CD Players. The CD came along as state-of-the-art technology that was supposed to last forever. Yet its shelf life as the dominant platform to play music lasted less than the reign of the “primitive” record player. The Internet allows people to download music and file share and not need to purchase CDs or devices on which to play CDs.
Blockbuster Video and other video stores. With the advent of the VCR in the 1980s, Blockbuster Video stores sprang up nationwide and brought in millions of dollars in profit for its owners. Similar video stores dotted the landscape as people flocked to these stores to rent and purchase videos. But with the Internet people can now rent online and not have to visit the video store. And with the DVD’s arrival, movies and other entertainment could now be easily shipped through the mail at low cost. The bulky VCR tape was gone, replaced by the lightweight DVD that could be shipped like a first-class letter. Blockbuster Video declared bankruptcy in September 2010, and the once vaunted video chain must now shed a crushing debt load of about $1.46 billion through restructuring, according to Bloomberg business and financial news. As outlets like Blockbuster have struggled, Internet sites like Netflix, an online company that offers flat-rateDVDs and Blu-rayDisc rentals by mail and video streaming, have thrived.
Brick and mortar stores. Not only have stores like Blockbuster been adversely affected by the Internet, but virtually all brick and mortar retail outlets have taken a serious blow. It is so much easier to visit sites like amazon.com and order items through the mail than visiting stores in person. As a consequence, many stores that anchored shopping malls and strip malls have seen a drop in the number of customers and are closing their doors, depriving communities of important tax revenues. The stores that survive have to offer a niche that the Internet can’t provide, and this is harder to do all the time. Only grocery stores seem to be well situated to meet the challenges posed by the Internet.
Postal service. The United States Postal Service provided a necessary service for centuries. But with the advent of the Internet, the volume of mail pieces passing through the post office has been greatly diminished. E-mails make sending letters and correspondence so much easier, and the mail arrives instantly. Sending mail through the post office is now known as sending “snail mail.” The Internet is, by comparison, an even bigger improvement to air mail than air mail was to the Pony Express. People are also now able to sign on to websites and pay their bills online, saving time and postage. According to dailyfinance.com, the postal service reported a loss of $3.5 billion for the fiscal third quarter of 2010. This is due to loss of mail volume and the increase cost of health benefits for retirees. The U.S. Postal Service is seeking to reduce mail delivery to five days a week by eliminating Saturday mail delivery.
So Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Mellencamp was right in his assessment that the Internet has a serious downside, although he may have exaggerated in claiming it was the most dangerous thing since the atomic bomb. According to Reuters, Mellencamp added that “some smart people, the China-Russians or something” stand to conquer the U.S. by hacking the nation’s infrastructure.
Our dependence on the Internet for virtually every aspect of our lives does make it a constant target for terrorists and cyber criminals, and makes us more vulnerable by putting so many valuables in one basket. Another downside to the Internet is that it has taken away from the community spirit of the nation. With so much being done online, face-to-face encounters are few and far between and human interaction is much less now than when people had to leave home to procure goods and services.