Orange study highlights our abusive relationship with the Internet

via Flickr © Nan Palmero (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Nan Palmero (CC BY 2.0)

  • Majority of respondents say they can't live without the Internet or smartphones
  • Eight out of 10 recognise they need to disconnect, but it's easier said than done
  • Nearly half don't trust social media, and more than half think it amplifies hate speech

Evidence of our abusive relationship with the Internet has been highlighted by an Orange study that shows a majority of people admit they need time away from it, but also that they can't live without it.

The French incumbent surveyed 11,800 people in nine countries: Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, France, Morocco, Senegal, South Korea, Spain, the UK, and the US. It found that an average of 61 percent said they cannot live without their smartphone, and 67 percent cannot live without the Internet.

Perfectly reasonable, given the ever-increasing number and variety of day-to-day services that are now available online, ranging from the mundane (checking the weather, booking a ride, watching a video) to the important (banking, paying taxes, arranging a holiday or a business trip).

Interestingly, nearly eight in 10 of the respondents acknowledged a need to unplug and spend some time away from digital, but 20-30 percent of them said they struggle to actually do so.

This, despite digital technology becoming ever more pervasive. For instance, just look at Amazon's hardware announcements from last week: eight new Echo devices, plus a smart lamp, and a voice-controlled oven.

These products will make technology much more accessible for people who, for whatever reason, struggle to use smartphones, tablets, and PCs. For the rest of us, they promise to add convenience to our daily lives.

Digital tech is also – slowly – becoming more immersive. Look at the new virtual reality experiences being offered up Facebook's Oculus unit, including hand tracking and a sort of VR version of Second Life, called Facebook Horizon.

So, what could possibly cause people to want to get away from digital technology, when it does so many useful and exciting things?

We're looking at you, Messrs Zuck and Dorsey

According to Orange, 75 percent of respondents in France and Spain said they could live without social media. That figure rises to 82 percent of Americans. Across the whole sample group, only 33 percent of respondents said they could not live without social media.

A large majority of respondents in France, Spain, the UK, Morocco and Egypt agreed that digital services drive and amplify hate speech.

via Orange (September 2019)

via Orange (September 2019)

Social networks also suffer from a lack of trust. Overall, nearly half of respondents said they do not trust social networks. In France and Spain trust in social networks sits at 31 percent and 41 percent respectively. In the UK, 51 percent of respondents said they trust social networks; that figure comes in at 50 percent for the US.

Facebook (including Instagram) and Twitter being bad at policing their own services won't stop people using the Internet. Nonetheless, surveys like Orange's reveal that a majority of people think the Internet has a social media problem.

Could there come a point where companies actively avoid being associated with the likes of Twitter and Facebook for fear of reputational damage? Will the CEO of some yet-to-be-launched social media platform one day feel compelled to pitch it to users by saying, "don't worry, we're not like Facebook or Twitter"?

Judging by the results of the Orange survey, it doesn't sound that far-fetched to me.

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