Recent years have seen the rise of broadband, the capability of connecting to the Internet at connection speeds of more than 200 kilobits per second, or 1.5 megabits per second (depending on who you ask, the required speeds for broadband vary).
Apart from the faster connections, however, the advent of broadband did away with the tedious task of calling your ISP, waiting for an open line, and logging in before you could surf. Now, you only have to power on your computer and you’re instantly connected. And it has been met with widespread, and even increasing, acceptance. By February 2004, 48 million American homes already had broadband connection at home, representing around 24% of American adults, and signifying a 60% increase in adoption rates from a year earlier. You can only imagine what the adoption rates are currently at.
Broadband has taken the Internet into fruition. With the higher speeds, consumers get better Web experience: faster interactions, shorter waits, and instant load times for Web pages. Businesses, on the other hand, capitalize on the new technology to further improve e-commerce and service delivery. Everybody’s connected, instantly and at a much faster pace. The world is enthusiastic and happy.
But apparently, there is a hidden danger. A 2004 study has found that people with broadband Internet access are more likely to engage in entertainment related activities while online. That is, most people with broadband Internet connections at home are more likely to do some social activities, or watch videos, write personal emails, socialize informally. In contrast, people with “narrowband” connections are more likely to do some of the more serious stuff like joining political discussions, sharing hard knowledge, and have increased civic participation.
Let me venture into an example which I think most of us can relate with. Take your activities on the social networking site, Facebook. Just how much time do you spend playing Fashion Wars, or Vampires? Or perhaps, watching user submitted videos? Or reading your friends’ notes? In contrast, how many minutes do you spend time reading about other people’s causes? Chances are, you just accept invitations to join causes and not read about it. Also chances are, that if you spend 15 minutes on Facebook, around 10 to 13 minutes are spent basically getting entertained.
What it all boils down to is that broadband connection might not be great news after all. The study echoes the findings of numerous studies conducted earlier that entertainment related Internet use leads to less engagement with public affairs. It all means that broadband Internet speed is creating a culture of apathy among its users. We all know that the Internet is effectively shaping our own offline worldview and culture. If the study is to be believed, we would soon be shrugging off wars and politics as we look for entertaining videos on YouTube.