The Internet allows one to access information stored in a computer from anywhere in the world. Through a connection provided by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) a user can access information store in a computer in Australia, when the user is in Canada. As a connection, therefore, the Internet has so far moved from connecting not only computers, but also smartphones and other Internet-enabled devices. Today online streaming of videos, conference calls, updating one’s status and posting pictures on social media, chatting with friends, searching information through search engines such as Google, Bing and other information data bases is only possible when one has an Internet connection (Leiner et al., 2009). In essence, while this information was available before the invention of the Internet, it (Internet) provided the missing link, allowing people to access the information from the comfort of their desks, palms and laps through different Internet-enabled devices. To provide the link, the Internet uses the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) as the standard linking system of computers in the world. The Internet, thus, is a network of networks, and comprises of government, academic, business, private and public networks that have wide ranges from local to global scale (Leiner et al., 2009). The information carried and accessed online today such as the World Wide Web, e-mail, and file sharing all rely on the Internet for their passage and access by users across the world.
The Internet as it is known today began in the late 1960s as part of the US government military network APRAnet (Advanced Research Projects Agency network). The purpose of APRAnet at its conception was the provision of a secure and robust communications network serving organizations involved in defense-related research. APRAnet’s system became the model on which government agencies and universities based their internal networks, the most important of which was the National Science Foundation (NSF). Within APRAnet’s model were protocols for sharing and communication of information, which are still in use today (NSF, 2003).
While many other agencies developed their systems for sharing information, NSF intended to make available the high-end computing resources of its supercomputer centers. NSF intended that scientists and engineers around the country could get access to the computing resources, and therefore launched the NSFNET, which had a speed of 56,000 bits per second at the time (NSF, 2003). The speeds were later upgraded to 1.5 megabits per second as more networks were connected to NSFNET network, extending its reach throughout the country (United States).
The development of NSFNET coincided with the rise of personal computers, which were becoming more popular. At the same time, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) based in Geneva, Switzerland and headed by Tim Berners-Lee was developing the World Wide Web (Leiner et al., 2009). NSFNET worked in the development of the first web browser, Mosaic, which became the progenitor of other web browsers widely used today. The World Wide Web as developed at CERN allows the positioning and viewing of multimedia-based documents of any conceivable subject with the help of an Internet connection and a web browser (NSF, 2003).
The invention of the Internet is perhaps one of the greatest in the recent times. The invention comes with many advantages, most of whose realization would have been impossible with the non-existence of the Internet. At its invention, NSF intended that the Internet be a tool allowing researcher to get information with no cost to the researcher or the institution (NSF, 2003). The Internet is still a free information resource that allows people to access information and knowledge at no cost. Butler, Butler and Rich (2008) inform that the Internet has sharply reduced the real cost of sharing and accessing information. Indeed, while it took purchase of books (most of which were in paperbacks and expensive) or membership (also by monthly or annual subscription fees) to libraries to access books, the Internet has made it especially easy for people to access knowledge and information at free to minimal cost. Some online information repositories are free for access by individuals across the world, thanks to the Internet, and even those that charge some fee, the fees are increasingly pocket friendly, and give access to a wide range of resources covering an even wider range of topics (Butler, Butler & Rich, 2008).
In relation to information and knowledge sharing, the Internet takes credit for increased collaboration among researchers and scientists across the world. Butler, Butler and Rich (2008) inform that apart from reducing the cost of accessing information and knowledge, the Internet has positively impacted collaboration between faculty of different departments and universities. Further, Butler, Butler and Rich (2008) enthuse that there has been increased (85 percent) collaboration between Internet-connected universities. With the Internet, therefore, physical presence of researcher is less import. The instantaneous nature of Internet communication with tools such as email, instant messaging, teleconferencing and video chats absolve the necessity of physical presence for collaboration between researchers (Butler, Butler & Rich, 2008). Through the Internet and using the communication tools, it is possible to not only collaborate on research but also projects through virtual teams, in addition to conducting business from anywhere in the world. The Internet, therefore, essentially encourages collaboration and business, without necessarily leaving one’s physical location.
Perhaps one of the most significant advantages of the Internet is its ease of communication between people from around the world. Through the Internet, distances between places have increasingly thinned with innovations such as email, instant messages (IM), video chats and teleconferencing significantly reducing the distance between places and people. Tejedor and Pulido (2012) posit that such innovations rely on the Internet as their very base. Social media, one of the latest innovations that rely on the Internet, has been at the forefront of reducing the distance between people, enabling them to share pictures, videos as well as stories of their lives. With more than a billion users, Facebook alone enables people to communicate daily, in addition to enabling people make friends and reconnect with long-lost friends, relatives and colleagues (Tejedor & Pulido, 2012).
While the ease that the Internet brings cuts across both the social and economic lives, a singularly economic advantage of the Internet is its provision of a global customer base to businesses. Through company websites, business can advertise to individuals across the world irrespective of the location of the business’ headquarters. Through the Internet, therefore, customers can learn of the history of the company, its products and services, as well as get reviews of the company’s products and services from other users. Through this, the company and the individual are able to gain new customers as well as gauge the suitability and quality of the company’s products respectively. Moreover, business with online stores can make sales over the Internet and delivery the products regardless of the location of the customer. Even more is that such stores offer the businesses 24/7 presence across the world.
The cost effective nature of the Internet is true not only to researchers (Tejedor & Pulido, 2012) and customers, but to businesses as well. Traditional advertising in newspapers, magazines and radios are significantly more costly than Internet advertising. Further, while there may be fears on the reach of Internet ads, recent statistic indicate that there are 3.7 billion Internet users globally, the bulk of them being mobile Internet users. The recent proliferation of smartphones has increased Internet traffic, particularly on these gadgets. Businesses, therefore, have a larger audience for their ads. Even more is that Internet ads are largely targeted, which means that ads only reach people with interest in the item the business is advertising as well as those most likely to purchase, giving the business higher chances of making sales.
Although the Internet presents numerous advantages, it has a number of disadvantages. One of the downsides of the Internet is individual inactivity, which has the potential of causing lifestyle diseases such as overweight and obesity. Tejedor and Pulido (2012) observe that 70 percent of minors in developed countries have access to a computer and Internet, with 52 percent spending a minimum of 5 hours surfing the Internet. Access to the Internet is even greater among adults, especially those who live sedentary lifestyles. Such inactivity presents health problems to both the minors and adults.
Worse, however, is the danger that lurks on the Internet. With more people having access to the Internet through their mobile phones and computers, posting personal information and pictures on social media, there is danger of people taking advantage of the information to blackmail and steal identity among other vices. Minors are especially exposed, as the Internet can be the point of introduction to drugs, cults, bullying and other forms of crimes (Tejedor & Pulido, 2012). Pedophiles have extensively used the Internet to lure their victims, and the possibility of anonymity over the Internet has made it increasingly difficult to arrest such criminals and bring them to book. Indeed, the Internet has become a hub of crimes including money laundering, identity theft, fraud, as well as the point of contact for recruitment to cults and terrorist groups. More of criminal groups are using the Internet to meet, plan, and execute their attacks, most of which cost human lives and economic downturn.
While the Internet has ease communication between people, it is slowly replacing face-to-face communication and drawing people away. It is more and more common to see people huddled over their phones in the virtual world giving little or no attention to the physical world. Consequently, it is becoming increasingly difficult to have any meaningful conversation with people, particularly the youth as they are drawn to the non-existent virtual world created by games and social media supported by the Internet.
The Internet is indeed one of the greatest technological innovations of the 20th and 21st centuries. The reliance on the Internet today for communication, business and commerce, research and collaboration indeed gives impetus to the Internet as the greatest technological invention in the recent times. While smartphones and computers provide platforms for work, the Internet provides the missing link between people and products, students and teachers, machines and humans, as well as providing a platform of interconnectedness across the world a feat no recent innovation can achieve.
Butler, D. M., Butler, R. J., & Rich, J. T. (2008). The equalizing effect of the internet on access to research expertise in political science and economics. Political Science & Politics, 41(3), 579-584. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/224978590?accountid=1611
Leiner, B., M. et al. (2009). A brief history of the internet. ACM SIGCOMM Computer Communication Review, 39(5), 22-31. Retrieved from https://www.cs.ucsb.edu/~almeroth/classes/F10.176A/papers/internet-history-09.pdf.
NSF (2003). A Brief History of NSF and the Internet. NSF. Retrieved from https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=103050.
Tejedor, S., & Pulido, C. (2012). Challenges and risks of internet use by children. how to empower minors?/Retos y riesgos del uso de internet por parte de los menores. ¿Cómo empoderarlos? Comunicar, 20(39), 65-72. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1112817425?accountid=1611