Connected to the World via the Internet and Social Media: Advantages and Disadvantages

New means of communication such as the Internet and social media have completely revolutionized the world and our daily lives.

It's pretty amazing when you think about the ways that humans communicate with others today. A couple of decades ago, we had to wait days or weeks for mail. I mean, do you remember what is to receive a letter? People did not mind to wait because it was the norm. Today, we expect to be informed right away. The Internet and social media have made information easily accessible to us. Not only that, the information provided via these means of communication is given to us pretty fast. People are "very busy"; there is no time to lose...decisions have to be made fast. I hate to admit this, but we are always in a rush to get things done ... we can't wait.

Today, if we want to be informed regarding something no matter where in the world, all that we need to do is to access the Internet. All the information that we want, or need to have is in the Internet 24/7. Social media such as Facebok or Twitter provide the world with a new method of obtaining news from multiple and specialized sources. We can read articles, reports, personal opinions (e.g., blogs) and books on the internet. We can watch documentaries, tutorials, movies and many more things online. We can learn how to do things or take courses online. We can get to know about our ancestors or old friends who we have not seen in decades via the Internet.

Work, Internet and Social Media

One of the most interesting ways that the Internet and social media are affecting our lives is via our work. Here are a couple of examples from my own personal life. We have recently started a new project aimed to investigate the ecology, movement and behaviour of red foxes at a national park. To obtain the data for this project, we need to ask park's visitors to report fox sightings. Instead of following the traditional communication avenues, we are sending messages to park's visitors via twitter and facebook (after all, almost every adult and many teenagers in North America have cell phones!). This is a simple and efficient way to obtain people's participation in our project, thus helping us to collect the data needed to achieve our study's goal. Without social media and the Internet, it would be very difficult to conduct this project.

Although the Internet started during the 80s, it was not as well developed and efficient as it is today. I was doing my Ph.D. during the late 80s and early 90s and I remember that I had to wait sometimes 2-3 weeks to read articles that were unavailable at my university library. If I was lucky, our library was sometimes able to obtain a fax of the article, meaning that I only waited 2-3 days to read the paper. But, most of the times, articles were sent by regular mail, so I needed to wait weeks (especially, if they came from other continents) to read the papers. Today, if I want to have a copy of a scientific paper that is not available at our library, I usually wait seconds or minutes for the downloading process of the paper to be completed. Other times, I wait 1-2 days to get a pdf copy of the paper emailed to me by the author; simple, and super efficient!

Effects of the Internet and Social Media on Work-life Balance

Although the fact that we are always connected to the world via the Internet or social media has many obvious advantages, it is clear that there some disadvantages too. In my opinion, the biggest disadvantage is that many of us are often expected to check our work emails in the evenings or on the weekends. Our bosses or employers expect that we will check our emails or we will read documents at times that we are technically not paid to work. Sometimes, I get documents late Friday night and are expected to read and discuss them Monday morning. The worse is that WE, ourselves, believe that it's our responsibility to be "connected" to our work for "anything that may be an emergency". We really feel guilty or stressed when we don't check or answer emails even though we know it's the weekend or we are on vacation.

Personally, I think that although commitment to our job is important, it is not essential to stay connected to it 24/7. In fact, I believe that staying connected to our work 24/7 may actually be counterproductive and disruptive to our work-life balance. I believe that we all need to distance ourselves from our work responsibilities for at least 24-48 hours weekly. Some people may need more time, others may need less, but I really think that we all need to disconnect from the world for some hours weekly if we want to remind productive.

The Biggest Challenge

I love the Internet and social media and certainly see the advantages of being connected to the world. But, I also think that one of the challenges that we face today is to "disconnect from the world", so we can achieve work-life balance. So, I applaud all these people who are deciding to take "email sabbaticals", "social media disconnections", etc.

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