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Analogue Hearts and Digital Minds

Analogue Hearts and Digital Minds:

The Impact of Digital Media on Human Behaviour


Jakarta, Indonesia 19-21 April 2015




The session on The Impact of Digital Media on Human Behaviour is the first in a series of project sessions led by the World Economic Forum’s Media, Entertainment & Information Team. The series will explore, in various geographical regions, the ways in which digital media has disrupted online consumer behaviour and how it is affecting human behaviour and society as a whole.

The digital media consumption patterns of the contemporary digital media consumer were the focus of this session, which also highlighted the social implications of excessive digital media use, including change of behaviour, habits and human psychology.


Key takeaways


Technology and education were identified as two of the main drivers of responsible digital media use in East Asia. Technology is needed that not only serves individual users but also addresses the rise of societal issues such as social isolation, cyberbullying, addiction and other recent developments. To protect privacy and curb the negative impact of excessive internet use by children, early education by the parents is a solution to the problem.

The intensification of connectivity across the region will yield many benefits, allowing for greater access to information, economic opportunity and financial inclusion. Young people can find a sense of belonging to a particular group and make decisions faster, become more adept at choosing content value over form.

The “internet of things” and use of new technologies raise serious security concerns about the sharing of data, particularly since the young East Asian generation often chooses convenience over security.

Intensified connectivity has raised many regulatory questions at government level. Since the policy landscape in countries across East Asia is highly diverse, attempts to regulate internet use vary considerably but overall, policies tend to be reactive rather than proactive.


The new digital consumer


Today the savvy and hyper-connected youth of East Asia carry multiple smartphones, spend several hours a day on their social networks and expect same-day release of films. To underscore the speed of market change, one participant noted that during the 2014 World Cup, the number of winning shots shared online totalled 40 billion, whereas four years earlier, online sharing hardly existed.


One unique feature of the East Asian context is that accelerated internetconnectivity is occurring primarily through the proliferation of cheap mobile phones and smartphones, with many people accessing the internet for the first time ever via their phones. The trend also represents a significant economic opportunity.


Internet connectivity is expanding rapidly across East Asia, one of the fastest growing in the world. Several Asian countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, are among the highest users of social networks worldwide, with increased connectivity providing plenty of opportunity to leapfrog. In Myanmar, for example, the country is jumping straight to 3G.


Intensified connectivity across the region will carry a multitude of benefits, allowing for greater access to information, economic opportunity and financial inclusion. People in remote areas can access key information through innovative mobile applications. One such mobile app in Indonesia allows fishermen to make more informed choices about the best places to fish based on information on tides and the movement of plankton that can be viewed on a mobile app. One Malaysian participant spoke of successful crowd-funding initiatives online that generated $32 million for social causes.


For Asia’s young population, the internet enables creative and innovative ways to connect, create businesses and deliver products.


While much of the talk about the future of the internet and its use centres on young people, one participant noted that an older demographic could also benefit from being more tech savvy, for example seniors could benefit from learning how to communicate with their families online.


The impact of digital media on human behaviour


Most participants also expressed major concerns about data security, privacy and the psychosocial impact of growing internet use in the future. In Korea, where internet penetration rates are nearing 90% and “O to O” (offline to online) services are emerging, the government has been forced to consider how to tackle the rising problem of internet addiction. Extreme cases illustrated disturbing effects, such as when one couple paid so much attention to their “online” child that their real child died of malnutrition.


Concerns about the impact of internet use are somewhat amplified in Asia owing to the predominately young age of the population. It is feared that, as young people are becoming more connected online, they are becoming less connected to the real world. Participants cited studies that show young people are rewiring their brains by spending hours a day online, thereby resulting in shorter attention span, less empathy and rising narcissism.


Young people are believed to share more and trust more easily, and also have a freer approach to privacy, considering privacy “almost more as an afterthought”. They appear unlikely to realize how much information they are surrendering online when opting for “convenience over security”.


At the personal level there is a multitude of positive, constructive experiences to be had on the internet but that engagement is dependent on making informed conscious decisions. Ultimately the migration of social life to social networks is about choice. “You can have tons of quality conversation on the internet if you choose to,” noted one participant, “You find other people that share your own interests. When people are bound together by a specific shared interest, that accelerates, spurs, change.”

Technology, internet security and digital media


Increased connectivity means not only that more and more people are connecting to the internet but that the internet is becoming an increasingly pervasive force in our everyday lives. The “internet of things”, for one, is causing a shift in underlying technologies. Wearable technologies, such as fitness trackers and the new Apple watch, are all connected to the internet. Today, even refrigerators and toasters have online operating systems. “The real implications of this are both profound and scary,” noted one panellist. “You can take a toaster with an operating system and use it to attack a bank,” he explained, “These ‘loose’ devices’ [such as fitness trackers, smart toasters and refrigerators], they all have the potential to become an attack vector on the internet.”


Serious security concerns arise –wearable data tracks highly personalized information such as the wearer’s pulse, heart rate, how fast they drive their car, registering details that are subsequently stored in a database that many consumers take for granted as secure. With technological developments evolving increasingly faster, such personal information can be used either for good or ill purpose. In one recent case, the Samsung Smart TV was programmed to improve its voice recognition and control system by listening to people’s private conversations at home unbeknownst to them – a major breach of privacy. To the matter of the social ethics of companies, the reality is that some tech companies are making efforts to produce responsible products, but the market is also flooded with cheaper, inferior devices.


Increased interconnectivity, the double-edged sword of the internet, also opens up the potentiality of cyberbullying or even radicalization. From Syria, ISIS has recruited more than100, 000 people through online networks such as Twitter.


Education and digital media


In the interests of protecting privacy and cautioning against the negative impact of excessive internet use by children, participants noted that people should “start from their homes” rather than wait for tech companies to instruct appropriate behaviour. Parents should limit internet exposure by limiting the number of hours spent by children on devices.


Parents have major concerns about the social implications of increased connectivity, particularly about how to police and monitor the activity of their children online.


Internet regulation and digital media


Increased connectivity raises important regulatory questions at the government level. Connectivity is relatively easy to regulate, but content regulation is more complex. In Australia, for example, the recent introduction of meta-data laws will in practice only apply to Australian companies. At present and across the board, attempts to regulate the internet have been largely of a reactive nature and in some cases have led to raising more questions than providing solutions. Tech industries, it was suggested, should not wait for government regulation but rather set the standard.




This summary was written by Kate Lamb. The views expressed are those of certain participants in the discussion and do not necessarily reflect the views of all participants or of the World Economic Forum.


Copyright 2015 World Economic Forum.

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