The Social Impact of the Internet

My final paper for an elective I took, about the 1960’s:

[Note: I wrote this before I realized I do not want to pursue a graduate degree in legal studies]

The Internet

Aside from my own birth, only one event in the 1960s causes me to wonder what life would have been like if it had not occurred: the birth of the Internet. More than any other invention, the Internet has revolutionized the world; the stage may have been set by the invention of the telegraph, telephone, radio, and computer, but it is the Internet which is simultaneously a global broadcasting entity, a mechanism for the dissemination of information, and a medium for collaboration and interaction between individuals and their computers without regard for geographic location” (Brief History of the Internet). The Internet enables people to communicate and share interests as never before, and as the Internet has become ubiquitous, ever-faster, and increasingly accessible, social networking and collaborative services have grown rapidly; sites like Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, YouTube, Flickr, and Pinterest, as well as blogs and wikis, enable people of all ages to instantaneously (and continuously) share their interests of the moment with others everywhere (History of the Internet Timeline, 2011).

The early internet was used by computer experts, engineers, scientists, and librarians; there was nothing friendly about it. The first proposal for a global network of computers came from J.C.R. Licklider of M.I.T., who relocated to the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in late 1962 to head the work to develop it. Lawrence Roberts, also of MIT, connected a Massachusetts computer with a California computer in 1965 over dial-up telephone lines; this showed the feasibility of wide area networking. Roberts moved over to DARPA in 1966 and developed his plan for ARPANET. The first information packets were sent on ARPANet on Oct 29, 1969, by Charley Kline at UCLA. As Kline tried to connect to Stanford Research Institute, the system crashed as he reached the G in LOGIN. E-mail was adapted for ARPANET by Ray Tomlinson of BBN in 1972; he chose the @ symbol from the available symbols on his teletype to link the username and address. (Howe, 2012).

The Internet was initially funded by the government and was limited to research, education, and government uses. Commercial use was prohibited unless such use directly served research and education; this policy continued until the early 1990s, when independent commercial networks began to grow. In May 1995, all “pretense of limitations on commercial use disappeared…when the National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of the Internet backbone” (Howe, 2012). The entry of Microsoft in the browser, server, and Internet Service Provider market marked beginning of a shift to a commercially based Internet, and the release of Windows 98 in June of 1998 completed the major shift to a commercialized Internet (Howe, 2012). The benefits of sustained investment and commitment to research are represented by the Internet and the development of an information infrastructure. (Brief History of the Internet).

The Social and Economic Impact of the Internet

My life today would be much different without the internet, although this has become apparent to me only recently. I have no doubt that without the Internet I would not have returned to college a year ago, and I certainly would not be nearing completion of my Bachelor’s Degree as I am now. The Internet has made education available to countless people like me, who are unable or unwilling to travel any distance to attend classes, and online education is available to students at every level, from elementary school to graduate degree programs. Even M.I.T. has realized the value of the Internet as a tool for education of “the masses” and offers all of its courses for free over the Internet; while completing online courses from M.I.T. will not lead to completion of a college degree, the value of the availability of the education cannot be understated. Even Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan are beginning to offer open online learning projects. Those who complete online coursework from these elite universities will not earn official credit, but will earn a certificate of mastery; the internet has opened “vast new learning opportunities for students around the world” (Lewin, 2012).

Without the Internet, the work I do now would not be possible, and I am certain the same could be said about untold numbers of other people around the world. Only a decade and a half ago, while living in Denver, I wrote articles for the Journal of the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians with the aid of a computer, but without the Internet my submissions all had to be hand-delivered on floppy disk to my editor. Research was performed at the library, and interviews were a time-consuming chore for a person like me who relied on public transportation (or my bicycle) to get me anywhere away from home. My home was cluttered with stacks of books, newspapers, and periodicals, and I was endlessly frustrated by searching for materials my (well-meaning) family had either tossed into the trash or returned to the library. With the Internet to assist me nowadays, not only can I perform research via the Internet and interviews via Skype, but my home is no longer filled with stacks of papers and magazines collecting dust, and I don’t waste much time looking for books my family has misplaced; nearly everything I need to read is available over the Internet. Better yet, all my submissions to my editor (now the newsletter for the Kaplan Chapter of the Golden Key International Honour Society) are easily transmitted via the Internet.

When I moved from Colorado to Oklahoma just over a decade ago, the Internet was still in its infancy, and while I did not realize then how my life was hampered by the lack of the Internet, I certainly realize now how my life is – and could have been – enhanced by use of the Internet. While living in Denver I earned extra money by transcribing micro tapes of interviews performed as part of a study on Parkinson’s Disease at the University of Colorado (C.U.); when I moved to Oklahoma I continued to transcribe the tapes until the logistics became too frustrating and I had to concede that the work could be more easily performed by someone still in Colorado. For several months, C.U. would mail tapes to me, I would transcribe them using my computer and a special tape player, and then I would mail the transcriptions and tapes back to Colorado. If the Internet had been in wide use as it is now, the audio of interviews could have been transmitted to me, and I could have transcribed the interviews and e-mailed the completed transcriptions. Without the Internet, I lost not only a stream of income, but a working relationship that was dear enough to me to endeavor to continue even long-distance. If the Internet had never been developed, I would not have been able to develop the network of personal and professional relationships which replaced those I lost.

Without the Internet, there would not be Facebook, Twitter, or blogs – all of which have proved to be not only entertaining but useful to promote worthy causes and to join others around the world with interests akin to my own. Without the Internet, it is not likely I would have discovered what Hinduism really is (it’s not Buddhism in India), and I would not have become part of a formal internet study group comprised of Hindus from around the world. And, without the Internet, and especially Facebook, my marriage would not have suffered what has become known as cyber-cheating and the bane of many modern marriages. While I have found the Internet to be immeasurably useful for academic study and networking with others to promote worthy social causes, my husband found the Internet to be useful for studying scantily clad women and networking with women whose only social cause was the promotion of promiscuity. At the very least, it seems the Internet might have proved useful in making it more likely that an adulterous relationship will be discovered by a faithful spouse than it would have been if the Internet had not ever been invented. It might also be said that perhaps the Internet forces honesty and openness into relationships like never before.

If the Internet had never been developed, I doubt first that I would have decided to complete my Bachelor’s Degree and second that I would have chosen my current course of study; I doubt that I would have been able to participate in causes which interest me to the extent that I can with the aid of the Internet, and I doubt I would ever have had the good fortune to meet such people as I have the pleasure of interacting with on a daily basis now. A number of personal experiences led me to choose Legal Studies as my major and to plan to attend law school. The growing acceptance of the Internet as a viable alternative to traditional schools from elementary through college has made it increasingly likely that I will be able to attend (and afford) law school online. The fact that there are not presently any online law schools which have the proper accreditation for me to ultimately practice law anywhere but in California has led me to alter my education plan and delay attending law school; while I still intend to study law with the hopes of helping others, I have decided instead to pursue an online Master’s Degree in Applied Legal Research. I believe it is safe to say that when the time comes that online law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association, students of law will not be the only ones benefitted – it will be society as a whole (but that’s another story).

The Internet and its many tools – Facebook, Twitter, blogs – are proving as useful to me in working toward helping others as I ever thought a law degree would, and maybe more so. Online studies lead me to the knowledge (and credentials) I need; online tools lead me to the people I need to help and the people I need to work with. Countless numbers of other people certainly view the Internet as one of the most useful tools in their personal and professional lives. Without the Internet, the quality of my own life, and my ability to have a positive impact on the lives of others, would be greatly reduced; without the Internet, the quality of lives around the world would be substantially lessened, and the task of people working together toward improving the quality of life for those less fortunate would be much more daunting.

 

Update 12/14/2012: related posts…the links will take you there in a new window 🙂

It’s Official, I am a Flirt !! on Bluefish Way

Sprinkle: Saying I Love You on Sprinklin Thoughts

Love: Quantifying the Unquantifiable   on Brandy Desiree Collins – Living, Dreaming, Waking, Seeing, Becoming

 

 

References

History of the Internet Timeline. (2011, August 26). Retrieved May 19, 2012, from   high-speed-internet-access-guide.com:   http://www.high-speed-internet-access-guide.com/articles/internet-timeline.html

Brief History of the Internet. (n.d.). Retrieved May 18, 2012, from internetsociety.org: http://www.internetsociety.org/internet/internet-51/history-internet/brief-history-internet

Howe, W. (2012, May 3). A Brief History of the Internet.   Retrieved May 18, 2012, from walthowe.com:   http://www.walthowe.com/navnet/history.html

Lewin, T. (2012, May 5). Harvard and M.I.T. Offer Free   Online Courses. Retrieved May 6, 2012, from nytimes.com:   http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/education/harvard-and-mit-team-up-to-offer-free-online-courses.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general

Vedder, R. (2012, May 6). The Promise of Lower Costs and   Quality Education. Retrieved May 8, 2012, from nytimes.com:   http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/05/06/got-a-computer-get-a-degree/the-promise-of-lower-costs-and-quality-education

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