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Web is turning us into kid-ults with no 'private identities' - report

'Hyper-connectivity' is re-defining who we are

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Britons' willingness to post every little detail of their lives online is changing the way their identities are constructed, according to a report from the UK’s chief scientific advisor.

The web is having a profound effect on how Brits see themselves and how they relate that identity to the world around them, Professor Sir John Beddington’s report on the future of identities said.

One obvious change which is a result of the proliferation of connected devices is the blurring between work and social identities, so that people check their work emails, Twitter and other social networks when they’re off the clock and employers start to look at social online presence as well as professional qualifications for prospective employees.

“Hyper-connectivity is driving social change and expectations, while bringing people together in new ways,” the report said.

“By 2011 there were more than seven billion devices connected to the internet, and numbers are predicted to reach 15 billion by 2015. Sixty per cent of internet users in the UK are now members of a social network site, increasing from only 17 per cent in 2007.”

With every aspect of people’s lives documented online, both the government and private sector companies have tons of personal data they can potentially use.

Hyper-connectivity can also bring mobs together “where their interests temporarily coincide” - either in a good way, like “solidarity” during the Olympics in London, or more destructively as during the 2011 riots.

The internet is identified as the "technological driver" of changes in the population's identities, but the report also details major "social drivers" over the next 10 years, which include an impending stampede of old people...

“People’s identities are likely to be under greater pressure in their family and caring roles, as the number of people providing care to older parents is projected to increase from nearly 400,000 in 2005 to about 500,000 in 2041, with most of this increase occurring by 2022.

“Traditional life stages, for example between adolescence and adulthood, or middle-age and old-age, are being delayed or blurred together,” the report said.

“Shifting intergenerational dynamics will also see a relatively smaller working population. Younger people are likely to find achieving the experiences of adulthood more challenging than previous generations.

The government also needs to consider those without internet access in its policy-making, the report recommends, so it can strengthen social integration and “make effective use of identities as a resource”.

The full report can be found here (PDF, 1.2MB). ®

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