I am not against the online world. I value the internet and believe I have made countless meaningful connections over the internet that I would not have been able to make otherwise. Also, the preparations for this research (i.e. this website) were made possible by the internet. Plus, as addressed in the following question, there are countless communities who rely on the internet in important ways.
I do, however, have many criticisms of using the internet uncritically, especially insofar as it impacts young people and students. These relate to (1) labour practices, (2) ecological impacts, (3) physical health effects, (4) mental health effects, (5) compulsion and addiction, (6) data and capital, (7) information and expertise, (8) competency development, (9) assessment and tracking, and (10) prejudice and discrimination.
Currently, I believe that a balanced and responsible or critical use of the internet is best. We’ll see though how my thinking on this changes as I spend a year entirely offline.
Here is more information on the ten areas within which I will be exploring the internet's consequences and possibilities:
(1) operating online services and producing, supporting, and recycling digital tools involve exploitive globalized distributions of labour, often along colonial lines (Dyer-Witheford, 2015; Fuchs, 2014; Huws, 2014; Nakamura, 2013; Navarro-Remesal & Zapata, 2018; Roberts, 2016; Tricontinental, 2019) and sexist, racist, or otherwise inequitable labour practices and environments within tech companies (Alfrey & Twine, 2017; Andrews, 2019; boyd, 2019; Chang, 2019; Twine, 2018);
(2) the internet and digital technologies have growing environmental and ecological impacts (Ahmed, 2018; Terranova, 2007), including the material resources and energy that internet technologies use (Dayarathna, Wen, & Fan, 2016; Shehabi, 2016) and the consumerism they promote (Crary, 2014; McGuigan, & Manzerolle, 2015; Slade, 2009), especially in young people (Theodoridis & Miles 2019);
(3) many physical health risks are associated with using the internet and digital tools: thrombosis (Doctor & Seth, 2018; Lippi, Mattiuzzi, & Favaloro, 2018), musculoskeletal issues (Dockrell, Bennett, & Culleton-Quinn, 2015; AlAbdulwahab, Kachanathu, & AlMotairi, 2017), problems with ocular health (Kim et al., 2016; Zheng et al., 2016), reduced sleep quality (Demirci, Akgönül, & Akpinar, 2015; Lam, 2014), and some—many of them self-identifying as electrosensitive (de Graef and Bröer, 2012)—question the health impacts of electrosmog or the non-ionizing radiation associated with wireless connections like those used in cell towers and smart meters (BioInitiative Working Group et al., 2012; Hess and Coley, 2014; International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2011);
(4) other health concerns relate to the ways that social media and internet technologies impact young people’s confidence, self-esteem, and view of relationships (Hawi & Samaha, 2019; Mei et al., 2016; Pantic et al., 2017; Widyanto & Griffiths, 2019); this sometimes leads to bullying (Best, Manktelow, & Taylor, 2014; Smith et al., 2008), social isolation (Turkle, 2014), the gamification of social interactions (Homnack, 2015; Morozov, 2013), and a heightening of young people’s anxiety and depression (Boumosleh & Jaaloud, 2017; Demirci, Akgönül, & Akpinar, 2015; Hunt et al., 2018; Rushkoff, 2013);
(5) relatedly, the internet and digital devices can result in compulsive behaviours and addictive relationships to connectivity and digital device use (Bian & Leung, 2015; Jeong et al, 2016; Samaha & Hawi, 2016; Yamamoto, Ananou, & Sindlinger, 2013);
(6) connected to this, data that is gathered on young people as they use the internet feeds into recommender or predictive algorithms and extensive relations of capital and exchange (Nieborg, 2017; Kennedy, 2016; Kop, Fournier, & Durand, 2017; Williamson, 2016; Zuboff, 2015), sometimes at the expense of the user and their attention (Beattie, forthcoming; Hayles, 2007), jeopardizing their individuality (Grosser, 2011; Lai, 2011), agency or self-control (Harvey, 2019; Rushkoff, 2013; Van Dijck, Poell, & De Waal, 2018), and privacy (Nissenbaum, 2010; Siemens, 2013; Young, 2015);
(7) more directly related to learning, the internet can diminish students’ ability to discern expertise and credible information (Beck, Giddens, & Lash, 1994; Collins & Evans, 2017; Peters, 2017; Rainie, 2016) or engage with dissenting ideas (Flaxman, Goel, & Rao, 2016; Karlsen et al., 2017);
(8) at times, digital and online tools undermine students’ efforts to develop fundamental competencies and may lead to relationships with technologies that limit students’ engagement with the foundational knowledge and skills underlying these tools (Agbo-Egwu, Abah, & Anyagh, 2018; Baek & Ha, 2018; Fong, Lo, & Ng, 2015; Samerski, 2018);
(9) also in relation to learning, student progress and assessment are frequently tracked through internet-based portals and systems in ways that have questionable impacts on student engagement (Ashman et al., 2014; Beetham & Sharpe, 2013; Brown & Lally, 2018; Goodman, 2018; Henrie, 2016; Kohn, 2016; Robert-Holmes, 2015; Selwyn, 2016; Thompson, 2016);
(10) often influencing academic performance, students portray themselves, comment, and engage online in ways that can contribute to stereotypical understandings of self and identity (Armenta & Ryan, 2016; Dahya, 2016; Hsueh, Yogeeswaran, & Malinen, 2015; Nakamura, 2008), and online platforms reinforce these prejudices (Benjamin, 2019; Chander, 2016; Noble, 2018; Otterbacher, Bates, & Clough, 2017; Wachter-Boettcher, 2017).