Section 3: Impact of Digital Media on Individuals, Organizations and Society
The increased use of digital media is changing people’s everyday lives and the way they connect and collaborate in the broader societal context, at work and in civil society. Much of the impact of this heightened use is beneficial to both individuals and society. It is enabling unprecedented levels of communication, social interaction and community building across boundaries of time, place and social context. It is enabling individuals and speeding up the democratization of knowledge. New learning methods are possible (as has been evidenced by the World Economic Forum’s New Vision for Education project), as are ways of working, which are providing better opportunities to people in under-served communities and regions.58
But not all the impacts of increased use of digital media are positive. Research indicates that when humans excessively use digital media it can negatively influence their cognitive and behavioural development and even their mental and physical health. Hyperconnectivity, the increasing digital interconnection of people and things, has the potential to change patterns of social interaction, as face-to-face time may be substituted by online interaction. In addition, greater technology enablement of work (and the resulting fragmentation of jobs) threatens the security of jobs traditionally considered as skilled in the developed world.
Whether individuals see the impact of increased digital media use as positive or negative depends greatly on where they live. The Implications of Digital Media Survey showed that only about one-quarter of respondents from Germany and the USA think that digital media has improved the quality of their social, professional and overall lives. By contrast, about two-thirds of respondents in Brazil and China believe this. Respondents in South Africa are roughly split on the question (Table 15).
However, despite believing that digital media has improved their lives, a higher percentage of respondents in Brazil and China also believes they should reduce usage (33-44%). Meanwhile, only one-fifth and one-quarter of users in Germany and the USA, respectively, think they should do so (Table 15). These country differences are enlightening, even after accounting for cultural differences in survey response patterns.
Clearly, it is important to understand the opportunities and the risks in increased digital media usage, so that both industry and users can learn how best to exploit the benefits while mitigating the negative effects.