Across social media this week, people have been celebrating August 23 as Internaut Day, supposedly the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web being made available to the public. Whilst this is not strictly true (here is a link from CERN explaining more) the Web has indeed now been around for a quarter of a century. I have had the often dubious pleasure of having been online for most if not all of that time, and it is amazing to see how use of the web has grown from being a fringe, nerdy sort of thing to an everyday part of most people’s lives.
Of course, what being “on the internet” means for the average person has changed a lot over the years. Today, most of people’s online expression is done via a handful of social media sites and mobile apps. Back then people thrashed it out (and often harassed and bullied one another) in Usenet groups and chat rooms. People built personal homepages rather than profiles on social media. The same jokes circulated over and over again via e-mail rather than as re-posts on people’s timelines or re-tweets. The more things change, the more they really do stay the same. The difference now is that the internet is so ubiquitous.
It used to be that being online was a choice; now so much business is conducted via the internet that not being connected would present major inconveniences to many people. Getting connected took effort and patience; dial-up modems were slow and often browsing with images turned off was the only practical option (remember those animated-GIF-heavy Geocities pages?). Today, we can access all of the world’s information almost anywhere, using a device that we can carry in our pocket.
Our ability to communicate with each other today is unparalleled in history. Several times in recent years we have seen both the good and the bad effects of this communication evident in the world. Several years ago, according to Wired magazine, a Reddit user posted a question about what aspect of modern life someone from the 1950s would find hardest to understand. One of the most popular replies went something like this: “I possess a device, in my pocket, that is capable of accessing the entirety of information known to man. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get in arguments with strangers.”
When Tim Berners-Lee and his team created the World Wide Web, he envisaged a means for people to share information and knowledge, to find solutions to problems. We have this now; we have had it for twenty-five years. It’s up to us how we want to use it.
Like what I’ve written? PLEASE, don’t just copy and paste it to your social media timeline. Instead, spend just a few minutes writing something original to you, that you have spent a little time thinking about. People will enjoy it much more than another re-posted animal video or political meme.
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