- Americans have conflicting opinions of individual versus societal technology use, according to a survey by strategic communications firm Vrge Strategies. Most respondents — 81% — believe that the internet and technology like smartphones have improved their lives, but 51% believe the internet and social media negatively impact society.
- Americans also favor more oversight: 41% say the internet and new technologies need more regulation, and 72% believe policymakers aren't keeping up with the pace of tech change.
- Survey respondents also worry about the digital divide, with 38% saying that technology widens the gap between the rich and the poor and 22% saying it lessens the gap.
It's not a new phenomenon for humans to subscribe to one set of beliefs regarding their own activities and another set for others' activities. Though with 81% of respondents saying the internet has improved their life, 81% having a positive or neutral opinion of technology and 42% saying technology makes their relationships with family and friends more impactful, the negative societal views are interesting.
Also notable is that 41% of respondents want more internet and technology regulation, just months after the federal government scrapped the net neutrality internet regulations. The Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) action has prompted more cities and states to consider their own internet protections, including in California or the more than 100 mayors who signed the Cities Open Internet Pledge. The ACLU recently released a report encouraging cities to provide public broadband to counteract the net neutrality repeal, because that internet infrastructure is more secure and protects user privacy better than internet from private companies.
Privacy and distrust of tech companies is another theme that emerged in the Vrge Strategies report. Of the respondents, 65% say they would not share personal health information or medical records with tech companies in order to improve their healthcare, and 67% would not share personal information if it improved their commute. Those feelings must be strong to avoid improving a commute, considering two-thirds of mayors recently surveyed indicated that traffic and road infrastructure are among the top complaints they consistently hear about from residents.
One of the most concerning pieces of data for municipal leaders and tech companies should be that 66% of the survey respondents say they would not want to live in a smart city. Although Vrge Strategies didn't provide specific reasons why survey respondents don't want to live in a smart city, one can speculate based on some of the other results, including those related to privacy concerns. Respondents might view increasing tech in cities as potentially harming their livelihood, considering 60% believe developments in artificial intelligence will reduce job opportunities.
The results of this survey provide a number opportunities for cities and tech companies to increase their outreach and educational campaigns for the public. The negative perceptions of the effects of the internet and technology could simply be the result of consumers not knowing about or fully understanding the advances in the industry. That can be daunting, especially considering the high profile nature of internet and security hacks. City leaders could allay some resident concerns by being vocal from the get-go about new technology, its benefits and the included security measures.