The Internet has completely rewritten our way of life, revolutionising the concept of communication, and by extension, the entirety of society, to a point where that it is just about our only preferred method of communication.
There is no shadow of a doubt that the Internet has changed the way that we as a society function. From revolutionising the communication and banking industry, and navigation, to an unlimited knowledge database at the ready, for anyone wishing to search for it, listing down all the things that the Internet has either created, or revolutionised, is simply too long to ever put down on any single list.
To get some inkling of how powerful and integral the Internet is to the proper functioning of a modern society, you only need to see what happens when there is a break in Internet service. Planes will still fly and trains will still run, but it would be businesses, big and small, and stock markets that might crash. There would suddenly be no social media, and no idea on current world events, until its printed in newspapers the day after.
The Internet has completely altered businesses, educational systems, matters of the government, healthcare, even down to the way we handle basic day-to-day communication. In short, the Internet is at the heart of a new social revolution.
With wireless technology taking quantum leaps forward, the Internet soon became available on-the-go, through cellular services, and with the advent of the smartphone, people became even more intimately involved, now without the restriction of having to be stationary with a computer.
Of particular importance are the ever-changing aspects of social communication. The youth is currently the driving force behind these changes, as they are better integrated into this new technological landscape, plus the benefit of no barriers afforded by the Internet is something unprecedented.
If you consider e-mail to be the genesis of all modern day online based communication, then social media is its magnum opus. Social media is so important that some might say it is responsible for a whole new way of perceiving reality. From redefining communication in a society, to really pushing the envelope on globalisation, social media has changed our perception of reality in a way that there is really no going back.
Social media has risen above merely being just a platform for sharing pictures and statuses about your children or pets; it is now a critical tool to implement much needed change in our lives, and indeed all of society.
Why? Because social media is very effective at spreading information rapidly to a wide global audience. Social media has enabled social movements built off of global online communities sharing the same goal, or cause, and create awareness for it.
Online social movements gained traction around the late 20th and early 21st century as the upcoming new generations sought to bring social change. With access to the Internet, online social movements brought awareness to issues both political and social. This impact that social media created has put forth discussions of a new communication democracy.
Such capabilities were unimaginable even during the early days of the Internet. Such a powerful medium has benefits far too many to count, and just about the same number of cons, if misused or underestimated.
The Internet is also the driving force of a sort of social autonomy. By having the ability to connect with various people of similar interests and backgrounds and giving them a medium to share their experiences, it instils in its users, a sense of independence and empowerment. Those who have grown up with the Internet tend to be more aware of their environment and their individual rights, freedom, and are generally more knowledgeable.
This makes them uniquely capable of dealing with more situations than someone who has had little exposure to the knowledge available on the Internet. And these attributes have indirectly led to a spike in entrepreneurs and start-ups, determined to take on bigger corporations. Such undertakings only materialised due to the Internet's nature to connect and develop.
COMMUNICATION WITHOUT BORDERS
The term 'communication without borders' is something very easily thrown around in current conversation circles, but the true weight of this phrase can be understood when you have some understanding about how things were before the Internet became as widespread as it is today.
Back then, there was no option to chat, let alone make a video call or share pictures/albums on any social platform. And when you consider the geographical aspect — two individuals in two different countries/continents — then your options for communication were severely limited, extending to telegraphs, letters, and maybe short telephone calls, but that's about it.
With the advent of the Internet came its first miracle: e-mail. Like it says on the tin, it can transmit electronic messages via a computer. And joy of joys, you could even attach pictures to it!
It took social media a while to come onto the scene, but when it did, it created another revolutionary pathway for individuals to communicate with one another over vast distances instantaneously. The Internet also created a happy medium where language was no longer a restriction for barring communication, thanks to the availability of online live-translating features.
JOURNALISM AND NEWS GATHERING
A field where the Internet truly brought about obvious revolutionary change was in the world of journalism and news gathering. Imagine, if you can, of a time where you got the news of whatever happening on Sunday, on Monday; ridiculous right? But that was how things were.
TV made things a bit more instantaneous, but nowhere near as instantaneous as a post on social media, made as events unfolded. With the rise of video and picture sharing outlets online, the diversity of news gathering has also grown. Nowadays, a journalist's role includes not just being adept at writing, but taking pictures and if possible, videos, to really make their reports more comprehensive from the hundred and thousands of other posts about the same event.
The Internet has also enabled journalists to know about world events, as they happen, thus helping to raise any kind of awareness much faster. It has also given a new life to another concept of news gathering; citizen journalism.
This involves ordinary citizens covering events that a journalist may not be able to, for various reasons. This opens up new avenues on transparency of a state, and enables a news agency to focus their resources more efficiently. This empowerment is only possible because smartphones and mobile Internet is now a part of daily living.
The more obvious benefits of the Internet —
Discussing some of the far-reaching benefits of the Internet sometimes takes away from some of the other great innovations that have made the Internet what it is, and why our dependence would likely continue for the foreseeable future.
This medium of communication is the Internet's first creation, and just as old as the technology itself. The concept was simple enough, and yet, it revolutionised the way people interacted with one another on the Internet, and to this day, it remains the most important and widely used communications medium on the Internet.
As the Internet started gaining traction, and more and more websites started popping up, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of content you wanted. Enter search engines; a system designed to scour through the ocean of data and find what you were looking for. The premise was easy enough, you type what you wanted found on a 'search bar' and voila!
There were many notable engines in the early 2000s, such as Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves, AltaVista, MSN Search, but in the end, one company became synonymous with web searching: Google.
This would be the Internet's biggest contribution to businesses. By removing the need for a brick-and-mortar store and going online and catering to a buyer directly, a business has a better chance of making a sale. And that is exactly what has happened.
More and more businesses are now moving online to cut costs on maintaining physical stores, and focus more on worldwide distribution.
E-commerce can simply be summed up in one word: growth. Sites such as Amazon, eBay, AliExpress and many others have practically redefined shopping. We have reached such a level that it is now possible to even do the weekly groceries online.
Social media outlets based on interest/need
With the rise of social media came the diversity of user generated content. It was soon apparent that more outlets were necessary to deal with demand. Soon, we had Instagram, focusing on picture-based content, YouTube, a video-sharing platform, Twitter, a microblogging platform, LinkedIn, a professional networking service, and so on.
Rise of streaming
As Internet speeds increased, so did demand for content that could be accessed and used straight from the net, meaning the need for physical mediums such as CDs and so on are diminished. Pretty soon, there were tonnes of music streaming sites such as Napster, SoundCloud, and Spotify. And with YouTube pioneering the way for streaming video content shared by other users, it was not long before companies like Netflix came onto the scene to redefine video streaming for the masses.
Rise of online dating and subsequent services and apps
While online dating services may sound new, and to some extent, it is, the concept of it is by no means new. Some close comparisons to 'online dating' from back in the day would be personal ads, or leaving messages on barks of trees, or walls. But being an Internet service, the capabilities of online dating services are more diverse, transparent, and offers more security for both parties involved. In a world where real interactions are slowly being supplanted by virtual/online communication, online dating is more relevant than it has ever been.
The older readers will remember a time when all sorts of banking activities had to be done physically at their branches. For us though, most, if not all of those functions can be had at the tip of our fingertips, thanks to the Internet, revolutionising yet one more age-old institution. Starting from paying bills, to transfers and standing orders and basic account information can now be accessed and used on the Internet.
While not really a product of the Internet, this device is responsible for connecting just about every individual online. The smartphone was designed from the ground up to function in tandem with online services to give you a user experience unlike ever before and free you from having to connect to the Internet from one specific place, and it succeeded. The World Advertising Research Centre (WARC) estimates that around two billion people currently access the Internet via their smartphone.