How often do you shop online? We will wager that it is a lot more often than you thought you would, even just a few years ago. News sites are full of stories about how seemingly indestructible retail giants like Sears and Toys “R” Us have faltered badly recently. Changing shopping habits is not a new thing, but online shopping has created a major sea change when it comes to how people are buying not just rare or offbeat items, but even the basics of daily living.
For example, grocery delivery was something that was not so unusual in, say, small-town America. But now even people in major cities are buying their food online and having it delivered. Substantial benefits have occurred, but mostly for a handful of major retailers and a large swath of consumers. Competition is always beneficial when it comes to keeping prices down, and the fact that online retailers often do not have brick-and-mortar storefronts and much smaller employee rolls means that they can offer their goods for a lower price. Combine that with the remarkable convenience of shopping online and it becomes a proposition that is just too good to pass up for many consumers.
This has led to a dramatic drop in the number of people not only going to stores, but to shopping malls in general. Sears has filed for bankruptcy protection and many are predicting that the retail behemoth will never recover. Toys “R” Us managed to get an infusion of cash that will keep the lights on, but that is of little help to the various organizations owed money.
All things change, but it is tough to predict exactly how much online shopping will continue to affect the retail environment in the next five years. Over the long haul, we might actually be at the beginning of an unstoppable march into a time when brick-and-mortar stores become something that you only read about in history books.
People do all kinds of different things on the internet and, in some cases, they are also all kinds of different people. Facebook has a strict policy that you must create an account under your real name in order to use the site, while Twitter does not. In general, most websites allow you to enter whatever name you like and people take advantage of that.
For example, they may be participating in a political forum and espousing their liberal views. Using a pseudonym allows that individual to remain protected, theoretically, and that might prevent them from getting in trouble with a conservative boss at work. Or someone who is thinking of coming out, might seek information from an LBGTQ forum where their identity can remain a secret until they decide they are ready to share their sexual orientation with the world.
These examples are fine, though it must be pointed out that many people abuse the privilege of online anonymity. Some do this for malicious purposes, such as trolling or other forms of harassment. Others do it to indulge in illegal activity, such as downloading pirated movies and TV shows, or other more serious criminal pursuits. You don’t have to be tech savvy to disguise yourself online either: video private networks (VPNs) are subscription services that provide users with the option of IP addresses in multiple countries. Want to watch something on the BBC iPlayer, but don’t live in England? Simply click on a UK IP address provided by your VPN and the BBC does not know the difference.
Governments and corporations take a dim view of such activity. Russia and China announced that VPNs will be banned in those countries by the end of the year. This is unfortunate because it will rob citizens of the chance to speak openly and potentially criticize those authoritarian governments. But, of course, that is just the sort of openness they seek to oppress.