How can digitalisation within society become a risk to humanity’s existence?

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Image by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash.

What is digitalisation?

Digitalisation refers to the many domains of social life being restructured around digital communication and media infrastructure. This phenomenon involves taking a step beyond classic digitization - such as multimedia usage and involves transforming society’s mentality and attitude towards the digital world, not only the organisational aspects of this. With each social institution adapting to this process, the digitalisation of society becomes more complex and more intertwined with our human experience. Eventually, the potential of the human experience being solely digitised will become a new reality. We may then start to see the negative impacts these advances have on the way we exist and interact with others.

What impacts has digitalisation had on the development of social relations so far?


Image by Ethan Hu on Unsplash.

From a non-organisational perspective, digitalisation has numerous benefits, with connectivity being one of the key factors that draw most of us in. Technological developments have made social media integrated into our everyday world and no longer a separate virtual space. We exist online. More particularly, the concept of belonging has become a popular discussion point to argue the benefits of increased digital integration within our society. Belonging refers to the affinity for a place or situation and has been described as multi-layered. It is up to the individual experience of inclusion and exclusion to define what makes one feel like one belongs. Additionally, social cohesion has been linked to the quality of digital relations and categorised as a contributing factor to the shared sense of belonging within a community. This concept takes into consideration the strength of a relationship and the already existing or to be strived-for solidarity within a community. The shift produced by digitalisation in this sense has led to increased commodity within social connections and relationships and has enhanced both belonging and social cohesion. Extensive research has analysed the impact of digital technologies and how although they can increase our sense of belonging, they can at the same time create a false sense of reality and perhaps more intense obligations towards those we connect with. (Marlowe et al., 2017).

Maslow (2017)’s theory of motivation categorises love and belonging third in his hierarchy of needs. This theory states that for an individual to reach their full potential, they must meet each level consecutively and at a sufficient level of satisfaction. The categories include physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation. In relevance to the impact of digitalisation on interpersonal relations as well as emotions, love and belonging needs include the quality of friendships, intimacy, our relationships with family and our overall sense of connection. Therefore, this level cannot be fully reached if an individual has not yet met all their safety needs, some of which concern personal security and the availability of resources, level of income and quality of health – both physical and mental and employment. In essence, the rate at which social media has allowed connections to be made between individuals with much less effort than traditionally has perhaps derived us from focusing on personal development. We now care more about building and maintaining these connections than ensuring we have met all our base needs. You will often find people who resort to dating apps and online communities for validation, to feel like they belong somewhere or with someone. Naturally, there is nothing wrong with seeking the feelings of support and comfort that love and belonging provide, and technology has been a massive help in enabling individuals to experience these feelings which may not be readily available in their everyday life, however, when it comes at the cost of losing ourselves in other people or experiences, it may be time to reconsider how available we want to make these services to society. Yuval-Davis (2011) talks about the several social implications derived from connotations of ‘feeling at home’ online and discusses how once our sense of belonging becomes threatened by features of social media (e.g., getting hate comments, getting blocked by someone we care about), the issues of digitalisation become prevalent, and we start to realise the missing foundation of safety needs that is necessary for the connections we build online to last.

Additionally, user @gaialect on Twitter talks about how growing up on the internet has perhaps made our generation hyper-aware of the self, leading to us caring too much about how we are perceived, not only online but also in our private, interpersonal relationships. As a result, we may now tend to hold back natural human reactions and feelings to certain experiences in our lives to appeal to the ever-changing standards created online. At first glance, it may seem that having access to the internet in this sense allows us to strive for the best version of ourselves, and the romanticised version of self-improvement and self-love trending on social media is a motivational tool that most of us benefit from. When we delve deeper, however, these trends unintentionally set fake expectations and new criteria of a ’good’ life and as a result, we become stuck on trying to achieve the next best thing and forget to live in the moment or appreciate the rawest parts of ourselves as they come. Similarly, Welsh singer-songwriter MARINA addresses the impacts of being exposed to excessive amounts of media in her song Oh No! with the lyrics:

“TV taught me how to feel Now real life has no appeal”.

This lyric highlights the way the desire to live the lives we see on TV has become increasingly predominant in the younger generation’s goals, and many do not even enjoy certain aspects of traditional life anymore. The song goes on to say:

“I know exactly what I want and who I want to be, I know exactly why I walk and talk like a machine”

This indicates that to reach these goals, we must now become machines and behave according to the standards set by social influencers, even if this means neglecting who we truly are. This also links back to the false sense of reality that’s being created, as many of these examples we see online or on TV are far from the truth of what a healthy lifestyle should be, whether that be how to maintain healthy relationships with others or how to become successful in your career.

V&R Map and Critical Analysis of digital footprint.


Map created on mural.co.

Above is my V&R (Visitor/Resident) map which looks at how much time I spend on websites and apps, but more importantly, the way in which I utilise these – either personal or professional/institutional use. A visitor to an online platform refers to someone leaving no social trace online, whereas a resident is someone who continually contributes and posts, essentially creating a persona for these platforms (White, 2011). For a resident, examples would include a lifestyle influencer on Instagram, posting daily updates for their followers, or a researcher publishing papers and articles to share their findings. A visitor, however, would be an individual browsing the internet for a bus schedule, or someone reading a news article. Looking at my digital identities in relation to the research question, my V&R map made me realise I spend a large amount of time online, but not in a beneficial way. Thanks to this, my lack of professional use of the internet became apparent, as well as how instead of enhancing and gaining skills through research, improving myself and broadening my knowledge, I am mainly using the internet as a means of emotional stimulation and a distraction from my everyday tasks. This has easily led to wasted time by procrastination, especially at times of increased stress. This can be seen by my screen time on my phone which averaged 7 hours and 34 minutes a day during the month of November 2022, with social media applications such as Instagram, TikTok and Twitter being the most used apps, alongside Messages. This is more than the average 3 hours and 43 minutes of daily smartphone use in 2022, as reported by Josh Howarth on explodingtopics.com. This is clearly a cause for concern, especially as this number has been increasing globally over recent years, and when taking into consideration that most of the time spent online is done so by mindlessly scrolling on social media with no actual purpose of finding out useful information or connecting with others. Van Dijck (2013) notes how opting out is no longer an option when it comes to the digital world, and many of us, including me, have moved away from the innocent search for knowledge or a sense of belonging, and now feel obligated to live online. Opting out of this lifestyle would sadly mean disconnecting socially, as many online activities are now closely interlinked with our offline social life.

How do powerful corporations play a role in this?


Image by ev on Unsplash.

Initially, digitalisation in a strictly corporate setting was all about digital transformation – the process by which technologies create or modify existing business processes to meet market requirements. For example, integrating artificial intelligence into customer services allows interaction with businesses to become quicker and more cost-effective, as we now have AI-powered chatbots to answer customer enquiries. This takes away from the time spent in a queue, listening to waiting room music and waiting for a dispatcher to pick up your query. Technological advancements in this sense have allowed for continuous research and development to take place, all thanks to data collection, which tells developers exactly what the market wants and needs before they even do. As we stray further away from the original purpose of integrating digitalisation into business models however and we arrive at the present day, invasion of privacy and corporate manipulation become the new norms of business activity.

“Major social media companies, most of which didn’t even exist at the turn of the century, now mediate, coordinate, and influence the thoughts and behaviours of billions of people.”

The Consilience Project here talks about Big Tech’s attempt at reshaping governance and the power these companies now hold over users’ behaviour. Due to mass data collection, most social media companies don’t even have a product to sell to their users and in fact, the user’s own data and behaviour online – essentially their digital footprint, becomes the product. Recommender systems, also known as algorithms, curate content based on a user’s past online behaviour to influence and dictate any future interactions they may have with the respective platform. In essence, there is an exchange of data and exposure for money between Big Data corporations such as Amazon and Meta and social media platforms and businesses seeking to promote their products and services, this allowing all kinds of businesses to maintain their position in the market, as well as dominate users. While this is a positive thing for Big Tech, the wider society has already seen massive changes due to this. Disruptions to previous routines and norms have become central to processes of digitalisation, and rather than this being done in a beneficial way for everyone, such as allowing older generations to adapt alongside these changes, corporations have replaced many systems to cater to globalisation. As a result, many local communities with less access to these adaptations become the out-group to the rising digital society, as they cannot provide data to be collected for algorithmic development, thus digitalisation now creates a divide within our society, instead of aiding connectivity and convenience. Looking back at the definition of belonging, elements of inclusion and exclusion are key to making an individual belong. Big Tech is very clearly dismissing this and not even giving less-fortunate communities the choice to contribute, therefore increasing the risk of losing touch with traditional ways of existing and connecting posed to humanity.


In conclusion, we can clearly identify the effects of digitalisation on wider society and how this has already started to pose a threat to our humanity’s existence and will most definitely continue to do so as technology advances. Here I aimed at highlighting specifically the way excessive use of digital spaces has derived us from experiencing social life in its truest form, this being in person. The negative impacts of this can be seen through increased global screentime, the decline in productivity and motivation in young individuals, as well as the socioeconomic divide created across different nations. Moving forward, we can expect to see a further decline in the inclination for social spaces and activities, especially in the Alpha generation (individuals born between 2011 and 2015) whom we can already see growing up almost solely in digital spaces. This will likely also affect the quality of attachments and connections made with others, as we can more easily conceal who we truly are from others due to the lack of in-person interaction. Lastly, as data collection becomes the norm, we may see individuals become paranoid about constant surveillance, which can potentially lead to the mass boycotting of digitality.


gaia. (2022, November 8). Twitter. https://twitter.com/gaialect/status/1589987411928678402?s=20

Howarth, J. (2023, January 13). Alarming Average Screen Time Statistics (2023). Exploding Topics. https://explodingtopics.com/blog/screen-time-stats

MARINA. (2010, June 28). MARINA - Oh No! (I Feel Like I’m The Worst So I Always Act like I’m The Best) [Official Music Video] [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cr-SqRWImmI

Marlowe, J. M., Bartley, A., & Collins, F. (2017). Digital belongings: The intersections of social cohesion, connectivity and digital media. Ethnicities, 17(1), 85-102.

Project, T. C. (2022, January 30). How Big Tech is Reshaping Governance. The Consilience Project. https://consilienceproject.org/how-big-tech-is-reshaping-governance/

Van Dijck, J. (2013). The culture of connectivity: A critical history of social media. Oxford University Press.

White, D. S. (2011, August 23). Visitors and Residents: A new typology for online engagement First Monday. https://journals.uic.edu/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/3171

Yuval-Davis, N. (2011). The politics of belonging. The Politics of Belonging, 1-264.