Stories From Experts About the Impact of Digital Life

Impact of Digital Life

Technology experts and scholars have never been at a loss for concerns about the current and future impact of the internet.

Over the years of canvassings by Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center, many experts have been anxious about the way people’s online activities can undermine truth, foment distrust, jeopardize individuals’ well-being when it comes to physical and emotional health, enable trolls to weaken democracy and community, compromise human agency as algorithms become embedded in more activities, kill privacy, make institutions less secure, open up larger social divisions as digital divides widen, and wipe out untold numbers of decent-paying jobs.

An early-2018 expert canvassing of technology experts, scholars and health specialists on the future of digital life and well-being contained references to some of those concerns. The experts who participated in that research project were also asked to share anecdotes about their own personal experiences with digital life. This report shares those observations.

Specifically, the participants in the nonscientific canvassing were asked:

Please share a brief personal anecdote about how digital life has changed your daily life, your family’s life or your friends’ lives in regard to well-being – some brief observation about life for self, family or friends. Tell us how this observation or anecdote captures how hyperconnected life changes people’s well-being compared to the way life was before digital connectivity existed.

Many of these experts wrote about a number of powerful ways digital life makes things better. Some themes:

THE POSITIVES OF DIGITAL LIFE

Glorious connectedness

Many argued that the internet has provided one of the greatest boons to individuals: the ability to reach out and connect directly with friends, family, colleagues, knowledge, education, entertainment and more anywhere globally at any time in a nearly free and frictionless manner.

Invent, reinvent, innovate

Digital tools enable people to invent or reinvent their lives and careers. They can also innovate through wide networking with people and information that allows them to develop businesses, find the perfect job, and meet soulmates, colleagues, new friends and fellow interest-sharers.

THE NEGATIVES OF DIGITAL LIFE

Impact of Digital Life

Connectedness overload

Low-friction instant access to nearly everything, anytime, anywhere is causing stress, anxiety, sleeplessness and loss of patience. Some experts noted that they witness people missing out on or diminishing important face-to-face social interactions and experiences. Some also noted that work demands and entertainment lures tug away at users 24/7/365 and that there is a loss of attention to “real life.”

Trust tensions

The business model of internet platforms is mostly built on an attention economy that rewards addictive products that heighten users’ emotions and perpetuate polarization. In addition, there are concerns among experts about issues of security, surveillance and privacy.

The remainder of this report draws from elaboration of these ideas by respondents who shared anecdotes and observations. It is broken into three chapters: 1) anecdotes and comments about the positives of digital life; 2) anecdotes and comments about potentially harmful aspects of that life; and 3) responses in which people’s statements or anecdotes were fairly evenly split with both pros and cons of digital life. Some responses are lightly edited for style.

Are you in the American middle class? Find out with our income calculator

American middle class

About half of American adults lived in middle-income households in 2016, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. In percentage terms, 52% of adults lived in middle-income households, 29% in lower-income households and 19% in upper-income households.

Our calculator below, updated with 2016 data, lets you find out which group you are in – first compared with other adults in your metropolitan area and among American adults overall, and then compared with other adults in the United States similar to you in education, age, race or ethnicity, and marital status.

STEP 1: See where you are in the distribution of Americans by income tier. Enter the location that best describes where you live, your household income and the number of people in your household. The calculator adjusts for the cost of living in your area.

Our new analysis shows that the share of adults who live in middle-income households varies widely across the 260 metropolitan areas examined, from 39% in Laredo, TX to 65% in Sheboygan, WI. The share of adults who live in lower-income households ranges from 19% in Ogden-Clearfield, UT to 49% in Laredo, TX. The estimated share living in upper-income households is greatest in San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA (32%) and the smallest in Lewiston-Auburn, ME (8%).

Related: The American middle class is stable in size, but losing ground financially to upper-income families

The calculator takes your household income and adjusts it for the size of your household. The income is revised upward for households that are below average in size and downward for those of above average size. This way, each household’s income is made equivalent to the income of a three-person household (the whole number nearest to the average size of a U.S. household, which was 2.5 in 2016).

Pew Research Center does not store or share any of the information you enter.

Your size-adjusted household income and the cost of living in your area are the factors we use to determine your income tier. Middle-income households – those with an income that is two-thirds to double the U.S. median household income – had incomes ranging from about $45,200 to $135,600 in 2016. Lower-income households had incomes less than $45,200 and upper-income households had incomes greater than $135,600 (all figures computed for three-person households, adjusted for the cost of living in a metropolitan area, and expressed in 2016 dollars).

American middle class

The cost-of-living adjustment for an area was calculated as follows: Jackson, Tennessee, is a relatively inexpensive area, with a price level that is 17.9% less than the national average. The Hawaii metropolitan area known as Urban Honolulu is one of the most expensive areas, with a price level that is 24.4% higher than the national average. Thus, to step over the national middle-class threshold of $45,200, a household in Jackson needs an income of only about $37,150, or 17.9% less than the national standard. But a household in Urban Honolulu needs a reported income of about $56,250, or 24.4% more than the U.S. norm, to join the middle class.

The income calculator encompasses 260 of some 380 metropolitan areas in the U.S., as defined by the Office of Management and Budget. If you live in an area outside of one of these 260 areas, the calculator reports the estimates for your state.

The second part of our calculator asks you more questions about your education, age, race or ethnicity, and marital status. This allows you to see how other adults who are similar to you demographically are distributed across lower-, middle- and upper-income tiers in the U.S. overall. It does not recompute your economic tier.