For the past century we have witnessed a consumer evolution, in this essay I will focus on one of the biggest contributors of them all, the Internet. The backbone of this invention has since the 1950s been developed from being two scientific, one military and one commercial based computer network into becoming transformed and designed to be a very important communication arena for many people in the modern world. 1
As a result of improvements on inventions within the means of transportation and a variety of communication devices the world has become smaller in various ways. We can communicate with others across the border of our own country in a blink of an eye. The Internet has given us opportunities that before were not easily available to us, the constant development of communication have given the average consumer a lot more opportunities.
Due to our growing attachment to the World Wide Web we willingly or unwillingly let our psychological behaviour and perception change, I will look closer into the aspects of this in order to make awareness of what the Internet could and have done to individuals with the luxury of having it available for regular use.
Referring to Joseph Pines TEDtalk ‘What consumers want’ from 2004; he explains that in the beginning of the world of trade there were only commodities. Commodities as in things you grow in the ground, raise on the ground or pull out of the ground and sell on the open market place. Then came the industrial revolution and after 50-60 years goods became a commodity, consumers cared less about who made it and cared more about the price. Then the industrial economy moved on to become a service-based economy, after 10-20 years services became commoditized. 2
These changes happen because we gain more knowledge through time and someone is always looking to improve our present, people do in a big scale search for the state of mind that we call perfect. Our hunger for perfect is hard to satisfy, we could often look to others to find answers because parts of their facade could be slightly better. We are flock animals; we like to be a part of a group, therefor in an insatiable consumer society when the right people become persuaded to buy or learn one thing others will follow in order to fit in. Ph.D. Psychologist Alain Samson mentions; “But copying others is not limited to people we know or making conscious choices. Simply noticing what other people around us consume can affect what we buy—often unconsciously.” 3 When the insatiable consuming force is strong enough it is able to shift economies and transform a change in many more ways than one.
“Simply noticing what other people around us consume can affect what we buy—often unconsciously.”
In 2013 we do not just buy a product, we also buy an experience. The amazing taste of a Starbucks coffee, the quality of breathable Nike trainers, crisps with 20% extra crunch. Since the Internet was introduced to us we have become overwhelmed with information, and with the exponential growth of Internet users 4 we meet more of the desirable and undesirable parts of the human nature. Next to the expansion occurred Internet crime, growth of unserious contributors and a greater industry competition, as a result of this we question the information and the goods we come across even more then we would before we had a service-based economy. In the earlier days the only realistic alternative to buy a pair of trainers was to drive to the closest shop and buy whatever pair they had in stock. In 2013 we are able to go online like 88% of other e-shoppers; the majority visits more then one website during their research before making an informed choice about a purchase. It is important for companies to give the customer a good experience. If they turn out to not be loyal or reliable from a consumer’s perspective the word will spread like wildfire on the Internet and will eventually harm the business. In the modern society the real power lays in the hands of the informed purchasers. 5
In 1999 a digital music revolution started with Napster, giving us with peer-to-peer file-sharing free music of our liking. 6 This resulted on a later stage to become a great opportunity for the consumer to get digital merchandise for free; giving the people who were making big profit a great challenge. If we buy one thing at Amazon we have the freedom to look at customer reviews and even write one, due to the openness and freedom it is easier for us to pick the best and cheapest product possible. The consumer is given more freedom and power. This way of communication could be applied to other areas like picking the best University to study at, the best firm to apply to or simply find the best destination for your vacation. Our lives became more automated when a continuous growth of solutions became introduced to the Internet, to mention a few we have online banking, entertainment, work, news, shopping and investing available online. Used right this will enhance intellectual growth and simplify our lives, if the temptation for stimulus online is too big it could make everything counterproductive.
For an Internet user who is inexperienced, guidelines are available online at for example European Consumer Centre Denmark. They have information on how you could approach an online purchase safely. The Internet consists of insane amounts of information and a great deal of it is misinformation, this is a result of the freedom available on the Internet and the opportunists who communicate online because of it. 7, 8 For an online purchaser it is easy to fall in the trap of a scam since it is purely built up on trust and hope that they will send the merchandise to you.
The accessibility of goods and knowledge makes the world a smaller place; this is because we have learned how to communicate over the World Wide Web. In 1972 Roy Tomlinson introduced the electronic mail. It opened many new doors for humanity since it gave us the choice to share experiences, wisdom and knowledge in an easier way then before. 9, 10 The web have developed into an arena where we have the opportunity to debate, share experiences, spread knowledge to potential friends and partners in blogs and chat rooms. We have the freedom to express ourselves with total anonymity on www.4chan.org and even reveal state secrets in sites like Wikileaks. Due to the lack of control of what is posted online, people have the opportunity to become more enlightened about what is really happening in the world, with a way lower risk of losing your life to an interfering part or simply become renegades like Anonymous. This freedom has its dark sides; in 2012 Shaheen Dhada was arrested for criticising a shutdown of Mumbai on Facebook after the death of a controversial politician named Bal Thackeray. Her friend Renu Srinivasan was also arrested for pressing the “like” button. Luckily they were both freed on bail. 11 This is just one of many examples of the consequences when certain parts try to control an uncontrollable virtual world.
“… arrested for pressing the “like” button.”
In todays society privacy is something individuals sacrifice more and more of through online communities like Facebook, we expose ourselves in a way that might affect us later in life and even immediately. Retailers takes advantage of this by transmitting messages directly to the consumer based on the information left behind on the World Wide Web. 12 This could affect us in more ways than one, consciously or unconsciously; we could easily be exploited in our weak moments. In a virtual world where things easily could be edited, people tend to construct a facade of them self that does not compute with reality. We construct an image of ourselves of how we want to be in order to fit into the delusional virtual world.
Christopher Poole created in 2003 a site called 4chan where you can anonymously write whatever you want. 13 The downside with websites like this and all the anonymity on the web is that it makes room for cyber bullying and other areas of the aggressive nature. Behind a 21” screen we do not confront individuals face to face, it could result in expressing irrational and rational feelings we usually never dare to express in a way that could be seen upon as more intense than intended. The human nature becomes more extreme when we are given anonymity. Not long ago in the U.S. state of Florida a 12-year-old girl committed suicide as a result of bullying. This escalated and came out of control because of the jealousy from two girls aged 12 and 14. 14 We could find a lot more examples of uncontrollable cases like this online. This is a pattern that most likely going to repeat itself over and over again.
The Internet is a cheap and easy way to communicate with the world, it allows us consumers to have a good accessibility to goods we do and do not need. Throughout history we over and over again started to use goods that makes it easier and better for us. We have not had the axe, cars, shoes, glasses and painkillers if that were not true; and the Internet is a part of this phenomenon. Whatever is easier, better, faster and cheaper that gets shared with the world will often sell because of our lack of satisfaction of our current situation.
The exponential growth of users will affect us in many ways, especially the economy. One thing that could be cheap for man in Norway could be a month worth of salary for a person in a third world country. When big companies move their production or when individuals sell whatever is demanded for a cheaper price it will affect the way we live and work in the future. An example is when Norwegians go to Poland for a cheaper dental treatment, the quality is the same and you get an experience at the same time. You can figure out prices and packages relative to this by just making a quick search online. 15 When this is applied to other areas it will eventually shift our economy again like it was for the industrial and the service-based economy, just because we want something that is better and more convenient for us. We expect and demand more for less, this is typical human nature. Even thou we are flock animals we are selfish; if one thing could be good for you it might have severe consequences for others. This could be visible on the example where a 12-year-old girl who committed suicide because of some other kids used the Internet so it became more conveniently for them.
The comfort of anonymity and the simplification of our everyday routine change our mentality, all what after we allow ourselves to become used to. Automation is something that becomes more of in our lives; we have online banking, electronic mail and online shopping. History has brought us here, and by looking at history in general we like to improve what we have. The power of the masses rules many of the aspects of modern civilization. Human nature will shine through even if the technology develops to the better. Our hunger for perfect does not stop.
The product is strong enough by itself to survive amongst us, and the idea was so good that it was able to become a great success. Combined with the typical human mentality it will keep on developing to be a bigger part of our lives because it makes it more convenient for us.
The backbone of this invention, which was developed from being two scientific, one military and one commercial based computer network became free to use for the modern individual. This arena where everyone can contribute with knowledge, experiences and ideas appealed to our lack of satisfaction.
We keep on consuming whatever appeals to us because it has become a commodity, as a result of this the Internet users is changing the world and how we approach products, services and experiences. We demand more for less; we expect that others satisfy our alleged needs. This may be because we feel we deserve it, because many people contribute with something to our society, if not they are most likely to justify it no matter what position they are in. The one who got most influence on us to consume things online is our self. People may influence us; we may also be affected by advertising and marketing or regulated by public relations. In Century of the Self we get to know about the policeman in our heads. 16 It is the individual who sets the borders of what one do, not the computer game you have been playing neither the company who produced it for the consumer.