Social Impact of the Net

I first started using the Internet in March 1995 and since then I have seen a massive amount of changes.

In 1995 the internet was still in its infancy and the number of people of line could be counted in the hundreds of thousands to a few million and was see as the domain of geeks and computer nerds. If you had an email address or a web site then you where considered somehow strange, some kind of techno geek. However at the same time, if you knew any thing about the Internet you where also considered somewhat of an expert on the subject.

Look at your browsers now, Internet Explorer is on version 11  or Edge if you use Windows 10. Firefox is on version 46 and Chrome is on god knows what version. (updated Jun, 2016)

In 1995 we had Netscape as the most dominant browser and version 2 was just being developed and the beta version was about 3 Megs to download (IE11 is 28megs for the full download), which on a 28.8k modem was very time consuming. Internet Explorer wasn´t released until 1996 and came with the plus pack for Win 95 which you had to buy!

Versions 1,2 and 3 of Internet Explorer were rubbish, and it wasn’t until version 4 came along in 1997 putting Microsofts foot in the door, so until 1997 Netscape was the only browser to own.

But this isn’t an Internet history lesson, this is about the impact of the Internet on society.

Firstly, how the Internet has changed the business community.

When I first started designing and programming web sites most of the things you could do were very limited. A simple shop store was an option but the security was virtually nil. Look at today’s online stores though. They have multiple departments, thousands of products and are considered the safest method of trading (Yes! they are. The likelyhood of your Credit Card details being stolen during the transaction process is very low. Its safer than giving your details to Joe Schmow over the telephone)

The companies we used to approach when we first started in the web design business where very skeptical about the Internet at first and most businesses would take a mammoth amount of selling too, to be persuaded to sell online. Most saw it as a fad, a flash in the pan. Others saw the Internet as only another way of advertising. I can remember the MD of one company saying “I’ll give it about a year, nobody uses it” What an Idiot!

As time has progressed these businesses have actually began to see the benefit of the Internet in their business strategy and have began to sell over the Internet. Others have embraced the Internet in such a way that over 60% of their business is now done via their web site.

For a business not to have a web site or even a web address (even if its just for email) is a rarity these days and those who don’t, find that their business market is shrinking as its gathered by others. I cannot understand the business man who says to me, “My business is fine as it is and we don’t need to sell over the internet!”. Hmm! I’m a businessman and this just strikes me as sheer stupidity. You can carry on as before and sell to a small catchment area near your shop or you can sell online and have the potential to sell all over the world. Still, every time I hear this from a prospective client I think “Hell! What do I know, I’ve only been using this media for 20 years” There are some businesses that will never sell over the Internet though but they can still benefit from advertising online.

The other business side is the use of the net technologies.

How many times in a day do you say “Email it too me” or “I’ll send you an email” The Internet affects a vast majority of peoples working lives. Other technologies that the Internet provides is things like IP Voice Routing. I’ll explain. If you have a company with two offices at different ends of the country, and both have Internet access (Where talking mega bit transfer rates now not kilo bits, like your modem) why not use the Internet to allow people in the two offices to talk to each other. You pick up the phone in London, dial an internal number and the phone rings in Inverness. Cost of the call is nothing as the Internet is doing all the work via some clever software. This is a big money saver. I know of several large companies who do all there internal phone system like this now and they have offices all over the world.

Okay that’s sort of the business community changes. But how has the Internet affected all the little people in the world such as you and me.

So, how has the Internet afftected the little people. Like, You and me?

In the beginning the Internet wasn’t really accessible to many home users as you needed a computer, (there expensive) you needed to pay for your internet connection (that’s expensive) and you needed to pay for the cost of the call (ah! More expense).

Since 1998 however, when Freeserve setup the first free ISP service, then later introduced free calls as well. Along with the cost of PC’s falling over the last few years the Internet is now more accessible to the home user.

All the software is free; if you have a PC it comes with the operating system (Windows & IE) so all you need is a modem and a subscription to a free service and your online.

When I first started surfing the number of web sites was very low so most of my online time was spent either in Internet Relay Chat rooms or using the newsgroups to get information.

Times have changed since then and the average home user has hundreds of millions of web sites to choose from. They can play games online. Talk to others via text chat, via voice or even via video camera. The main use for most home users is email and web surfing. This allows us to keep in touch with relatives and friends all over the world quicker and cheaper than a letter or a phone call.

The number of people who have access to the Internet in the UK is currently around 20 million (http://www.open.gov.uk) that´s one third of the population. In 1995 this number wasn´t even one three hundredth.

The growth in popularity has nothing to do with the necessity to use the net but more of what it can do for you.

How many times have you wanted some information and at 10pm the library isn´t open and you don´t have any books. What do you do? Get online, fire up your favorite search engine and search for the information you need. What other media resource could you do that on, from the comfort of your own home at any time in the day! None!

What about booking a holiday. Get online fire up the browser, search engine, travel web site, search for holiday by price, destination, hotel, etc. It´s as easy as that. It makes perfect sense even if you are going to book the holiday at the travel agent; it gives you a sense of price availability or quality.

The use of the web for anything is limitless. You can find almost anything on the net, including a few unsavory things as well!

So what does the Internet do for you? Well, the key to this question in my opinion is freedom of information. I don´t care about the things online like porn, racist information, etc. That´s not the point; there will always be these things in every society anyway, no matter how hard you try to get rid of them. The good things however out weight the bad things by so much I wouldn´t even bother arguing about it. If you need information, the Internet provides, if you need to keep in touch, the Internet provides, if you need to talk (via a chat room, voice, etc) the Internet provides or if you want to play games, the Internet provides. Hell, I even met my wife in ICQ so that´s another thing it provided for me.

I don´t think the social ramifications of the Internet have been truly realized, as I think that the Internet has lots more to offer yet.

However, until the connection technology of the average user catches up with the technology of the software and hardware then the Internet won´t be the all singing all dancing thing, that I and many others would like to see.

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