A new survey by Unisys finds national security — war and terrorism — has become the top security concern of Americans, so named by 68 percent of respondents. Cybersecurity was not far behind, with 56 percent calling it a top issue.
Unisys found security concerns growing across all developed countries, but the jump in American concerns was particularly striking, an increase of 44 percent since the last survey in 2014.
“Americans are feeling an acute loss of control when it comes to all different types of security. National security has risen to the top because Americans feel they cannot control what is happening around them,” said Unisys Vice President of Justice, Law Enforcement, and Border Security Bill Searcy, as quoted by The Hill.
An interesting case could be made that this sensation of uncertainty and helplessness is the driving force behind cultural and political shifts across the Western world. Unisys found these generalized senses of unease have become more troublesome for its respondents than specific concerns about personal security. For example, concern about computer viruses and hacker attacks is way up, as is anxiety about identity theft, while concerns about personal safety in the face of violent crime are tracking 20 points lower.
“There is clear differentiation demographically with overall security concerns, with 18-24-year-olds registering substantially higher concerns than 55-65-year-olds and those with lower income registering substantially higher concerns than those with higher income,” the report adds.
Fears of impersonal digital crime invading their online lives might be expected to run stronger in younger people, who also seem to have less confidence in the basic competence of large corporate and government institutions. Some analysts postulate that institutional confidence took a hit during the 2008 financial crisis that might require a generation to recover from – presumably a generation in which large institutions are willing and able to do what it takes to win back public trust.
Also, since public perceptions of all major crisis are shaped by media coverage, the stunning loss of American trust in the media is likely to influence their feelings of insecurity. Media coverage of big stories like terrorism and major cybercrime has a profound effect on public opinion. If large swathes of the public no longer trust the media to get those stories right or deliver the information without political corruption, they will naturally feel more insecure.
Searcy suggested the loss of personal connection with institutions, perhaps a function of the growing distance between people in the digital era, contributed to this sense of anxiety.
“Security goes beyond ‘bits and bytes’ – truly holistic solutions require the support and trust of people, as they are also customers, citizens, and employees,” he explained.
It is a curious paradox that feelings of alienation have grown as interconnectedness reached unparalleled heights. We have communication resources our grandparents could not have dreamed of, but we have never felt more alone. That may be partially due to the way toxic social media environments stoke negative emotions and deliver surges of anxiety – there are a lot of nasty people on Facebook and Twitter, and they say a lot of alarming things.
Research has suggested heavy social media use can increase stress levels and generate anxiety. That may be as true for society in general as it is for individuals. Stories about national security and terrorism always look much worse from the early social media responses – there are always additional shooters, more bombs, extra casualties, and higher international tensions.
Surveys reflect a mixture of perception and reality. At the present time, it’s not unreasonable for people to wonder just how secure they really are. They don’t know if terrorism can be stopped, if some of the direst overseas crises will boil over into war, or if their online commerce can be made truly secure. It may be some time before we have solid answers to those questions. It will take years for large institutions to rebuild public trust if it can be done at all… and time is measured in minutes and seconds these days.