The fact that I am writing on a device that has no connection cables yet has high speed access to the internet is a testament of the advancement in internet accessibility and sustainability.
What started as a few users in 1989 has grown to over 2.5 billion and with consistent mobile growth and the futuristic endeavours by Facebook and Google to have internet access from the sky, that number will only become larger as we move forward. Although the internet is relatively new—25 years is young by almost any standard—the technological strides made from how websites look to the advancements in how we all access the web has created a generational divide between present day users and those who have the “back in my day” internet experience. There is already a generation of internet users who did not experience the splendour of hearing the cacophony which was dial up internet. Although the screeching of connecting to the internet was deafening and the experience was slow, there is something primitive yet nostalgic about experiencing the internet that way as we now connect with ease.
What started as a work project has developed into a platform, which for better or worse, has changed how we access information and altered our society. The internet that we experience today is vastly different then the one that inspired the creation of Yahoo!, Amazon, and many other websites and companies that survived or succumbed to the dot com bust of the early 2000’s.
The last 25 years have probably been the greatest learning curve we have experienced to this point. The internet, once referred to as "a wasteland of unfiltered data," has evolved into the source for geographical direction, weather updates, and apparently endless possibilities. From region wide revolts in the Middle East to purchasing vintage clothing, the internet has laid the foundation for the product developments which enable e-commerce and online communication.
The reach of the internet has altered virtually every industry, and the idea of going to the library to research, sending a letter by mail, or adjusting your schedule to ensure that you do not miss your favourite television show seems trivial thanks to search engines, email, and Netflix. The ability to access information, communicate, and purchase goods appears to be where the most impactful changes have occurred over the years. The development of search engines, led by the now ubiquitous Google, organized the once unfiltered data wasteland into accurate search results.
Simplistic as it may appear today, the ability to enter a query and receive accurate results was a tedious task to say the least. Email, chat rooms, and now social media have enabled us to send and receive information from any corner of the globe in seconds, one upping Alexander Graham Bell’s first long distance call from Brantford to Paris, Ontario, but only marginally.
PayPal, Amazon, and eBay assisted in creating an ecosystem for online shopping which has produces billions of dollars in transactions, rivalling the brick and mortar stores, while also creating several billionaires in the process. The online forums of yesterday inspired the development of Twitter and Facebook, while e-commerce websites paved the way for mobile payment service Square, which functions beyond the limitations of a desktop computer.
Despite the apparent benefits, as with every innovation, there exist negative implications. The internet has become an enabler for some unsavoury activity such as the very evident and malicious use of cyber bullying, as well as the darker side of the internet which is home to questionable activity—Dread Pirate Robert’s one-stop drug shop, Silk Road, for example—combined with the constant fear of information and financial transactions compromised at the hands of hackers.
Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelation of the government’s encroachment into our private lives through the information we give online confirmed the suspicions that George Orwell expressed and many people now believe: Big Brother is watching. Much to the dismay of web inventor Tim Berners-Lee who is an advocate for freedom of speech and privacy rights online.
Paying homage to Tonight’s Show host Jimmy Fallon’s “Thank You” notes, we thank the internet for reuniting long last friends and families, for limiting our verbosity by using Twitter, and for the countless hours of videos made available through YouTube. As internet adoption increases and innovation continues, it is apparent that the current internet experience will be vastly different in the near future. The next stage of the internet has less to do with websites experimenting with new ways to share content, but with internet usage drifting further away from the stationery experience of being limited to a computer.
As the rise of wearable technology and the emergence of the “internet of everything” with our appliances, vehicles and televisions being internet compatible, and plans for internet-distributing drones, maybe instead of laughing about dial-up we will reminisce over the time when wifi was not coming from the sky.