At first glance, the Internet is a collection of websites and social media platforms that allow people to communicate, store information, and facilitate activities such as shopping or watching a movie. However, this is only the surface of the technology that is behind the Internet, which is the most significant invention of recent decades. This essay will discuss the key roles and events that enabled the establishment and development of the Internet and evaluate its contribution to society.
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How the Internet Came to Be
In many countries, for example, the United States, the Internet has become an essential part of people’s daily life. The Internet’s importance is reflected in the fact that approximately 4 billion people use it daily, with an annual growth of 9% per year, as estimated by the We Are Social organization (Digital 2019: Global Internet Use Accelerates). Hence, the majority of the world’s population can access the web, providing an opportunity for communication and information sharing that was unavailable before. Firstly, it is necessary to identify who invented it and how it developed over the years to determine the place of the Internet in the contemporary world.
The Invention of the Information Exchange Networks
The first attempt to exchange information between two computers was in 1965, where research teams from Stanford University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), created a two-node network (Abbate 15; What is the Internet?). The basis of this technology is a packet switching, a process used even today, in which the information is separated into smaller pieces, transferred, and reassembled at its destination. Next, this approach was adopted used in government-sponsored projects for the military.
A person who has been using the Internet for ten or more years can argue that the nature of this platform, the types of websites and resources that can be found within it, and the application of the Internet in daily life have evolved over the years. In fact, the Internet was first introduced as a military invention developed to help the army during the Cold War (Abate 27; Andrews). The project that preceded the implementation of this technology of the world web available to all users aimed to create a secure communication network. According to Auletta, after the Soviet Union introduced the first-ever satellite Sputnik and launched it into orbit, the United States government became concerned with the technology gap between the two rivals (34). The officials established new agencies, such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) concerned with space engineering and the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), responsible for developing weapons applicable in war conditions.
The main fear that the government of the United States had is that a sudden attack that targets the telephone network can destroy the primary communication mean of the United States army. Traditionally, communication means prior to the invention of the Internet incorporated circuit-switching and telecommunication networks. The telephone communication networks required a physical presence of wires that distributes the signal, and their destruction would make telecommunication unavailable. Hence, this technology was unreliable and easily disrupted, and governmental organizations, for instance, the army, wanted to develop something that would be a reliable communication mean in case of war. Notably, the military forces of the United States contributed significantly to the invention of the Internet since, under their command, Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) was introduced. Upon the initiation, this project aimed to develop a cohesive protocol for sharing packets.
This invention cannot be attributed to a single person since the development was a part of several military and commercial projects, with a large number of people contributing to the process. Joseph Licklider is considered to be the first computer scientist who formulated the principles of the Internet’s functioning in his publication Intergalactic Computer Network (Cailliau 31). From Licklinder’s perspective, the network for sharing information should be available to all people and governments. His vision is considered to be the underlying outline of how the contemporary Internet works. Additionally, computer specialists Vinton Cerf and Bob Kahn are responsible for the creation of communication protocols (Hogback). The two scientists developed the Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) protocol for packet switching. The TCP/IP protocol serves as a guideline for packing and unpacking information as it moves through different channels.
The fact that Licklider’s vision, combined with the work of ARPA’s scientists and packet switching model developed by Stanford and UCLA researchers, had to be combined is an essential factor. Without packet switching, the other scientists would have a network vulnerable to external disruption as much as telecommunication (Cailliau 50; Hafner 23). This technology allows packets of data to take different routes when transferring to a different computer. In 1969, the researchers at UCLA and Stanford attempted to send a message from one computer to another, which resulted in a system crash (Ryan 10). However, it was the first launch of the Internet’s prototype ARPANET.
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Upon the end of this experiment, scientists continue to work on developing the network system. By the 1970s, several universities in the United States and outside joined this network, which highlighted a problem since it was challenging to integrate all of these computers into a single network (Hogback). This required a different approach, and Vinton Cerf developed the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). As was mentioned, Cerf’s work, together with the technology of Kahn, allowed multiple computers to exchange information. However, this still was not the Internet as it is today.
The Modern Internet
While the previous paragraphs outline the predecessor of the Internet, this section will focus on the development of the web as it is today. According to Abbate, Tim Berners-Lee established the World Web in 1991 (93). The idea was that anyone could access and retrieve data. Hence, to receive information, people would not need to connect to a different computer and exchange files between the two. Instead, anyone could access a server where the information was stored.
The next stage of the Internet’s popularization was the introduction of user-friendly interfaces that mitigated the need to have a degree in computer science to access the web. Mosaic was a web browser created by University of Illinois students in 1992 (Abbate 95; Hogeback). The information, such as text and pictures, could be viewed on a single page with features such as scrolling available to users.
The next notable change was the government’s decision to allow using the network for commercial purposes. According to Hogeback, this happened in 1992 when the United States officials allowed commercial organizations to have access to their ARPANET. This is significant because prior, a license was required to have access to this technology, which is why primarily universities were engaged in the process of using and developing the Internet.
Improvement of Computer Technology
The next question that requires clarification is the invention of computers that led to a need for developing a unified information transfer network. This arises as a need since twenty years ago, people across the world did not have access to the computers at their homes; the technology was costly and could be afforded by governmental organizations or universities (Abbate 40). The computers themselves were gigantic, requiring more than one room to be stored, meaning that having them at homes of ordinary people was impossible (Abbate 41; Cailliau 34). The invention of the personalized computer (PC) signifies another era in the Internet’s history since, arguably, people are the main force behind the creation of websites, online shops, services, and other features that are now used by individuals across the world.
In his book, Walter Isakson, describe the life and work of Steve Jobs – a person who enormously contributed to the adoption of PC technology in people’s everyday life. In partnership with Steve Wozniak, the two established Apple and began producing and selling PC (Isakson 5). This industry grew over time, with additional products being introduced to the market, such as laptops, tablet PCs, and smartphones, all enhancing the ability of individuals to access the Internet. At that time, when the two began their work, the only option was to purchase a bulky and old computer from IBM.
The Internet’s Contribution to the Society
The notable thing is that the Internet does not seize to develop as the current trend is the application of the Internet of Things. This new application connects appliances, such as fridges, electric kettles, vacuums, and other devices to the web (Sharma). The algorithms and sensors incorporated in these devices can scan patterns of use and help owners improve their life. An example is the use of smart fridges that can send messages to their owners when a shopping trip is necessary. Moreover, some of them can order items themselves by connecting to platforms such as Amazon. All of these appliances are developed to reduce the time people spend doing some of their daily housework.
Notably, the Internet affected all domains of people’s lives, including education and work. Sharma points out that digital education is becoming more and more popular, with different courses emerging. Additionally, businesses benefit from using services that allow automating processes and improved analytics capabilities. Surveys and polls are more convenient to carry out since researchers can access varied populations. Social media is now a vital communication means for many individuals.
The biblical reference that pertains to the importance of the Internet for society is Daniel 12:3-7. According to it, “many will go here and there to increase knowledge,” and this verse refers to the knowledge-seeking aspect of human life (New International Version). Since the invention of this communication and information transfer source, people across the world achieved a remarkable possibility to read articles, books, and review dictionaries without a need to leave their homes and go to a library. Further advancements such as video sharing and high-speed connection allowed universities and experts to record online lectures while obtaining an online degree is becoming more and more common (Sharma). All in all, similar to the biblical verse, the Internet helps people become educated.
The Internet promotes a rapid share of information, allowing people across the world to share ideas and use new approaches, which contribute to educational, professional, and personal development. Jeffers et al. discuss the concept of cosmopolites in its relation to the use of the Internet (1). In essence, this notion refers to innovation and early adoption of technology. The author’s research suggests that the Internet presents a better opportunity for information collection, especially in comparison to traditional media that usually present only one side of an event. According to Jeffers et al., “Internet adopters were more interested in seeking information about the outside world; nonadopters were more likely to say they value their solitude and want to be left alone” (1). Although the direct correlation between the two is yet to be established, it is evident that the benefits of technology allow people who want to search for new information are vast. The fact that usage of the Internet is connected to innovativeness is an important matter for understanding how it affects various aspects of people’s lives.
Adverse Impact of the Internet
While the Internet contributes to society in many different ways, which were discussed in the previous paragraph, it also enables the development of problems relevant to society. One issue is addiction, studied by Shek et al., who argues that “as Internet addiction is a growing problem in the global context, it has attracted considerable scientific and public attention” (1). It is unclear if the introduction of the Internet resulted in a new type of psychological disorder or if this addiction is similar to other mental health problems. The main symptoms include the interference of the Internet’s use with a person’s life, meaning that an individual cannot function properly in a social setting because he or she spends much time daily using this technology (Shek et al. 1). It can be manifested in different forms, including playing video games or continue browsing through social media.
Privacy of personal information is another issue that Internet users are concerned about nowadays. A recent example of a data breach is the company Equifax that lost information about millions of its clients because of hackers’ attack (Is privacy dead in an online world?). The issue of controlling the personal information that is on the Internet arises. Billions of people use the web daily, and the amounts of information that the website collects about their users are enormous. Events such as the hacking of Equifax can lead to fraud and theft of the user’s identity (Is privacy dead in an online world?). Some experts, such as a former analyst for Amazon Andreas Weigend that the notion of privacy in the digital era cannot be sustained.
Another notable example of privacy and user data usage that raises concerns is the case of the popular social network Facebook. According to Byer, in 2018, the public found out that this platform partnered with a consulting firm, which mined user information. The notion of mining is used in different meanings when referring to the Internet. In this case, Cambridge Analytica collected information about many people without their consent. The main concerns are connected to the further use of this information since BigData and analytics can provide new opportunities for companies to increase their profits by targeting prospective customers. An example of this is digital advertisements that take advantage of the emails or search terms that an individual writes to present ads to a specific item or service connected to that information. This issue is complex and requires a legal act that would hold organizations accountable for the data collection that they perform.
However, this also requires an improved responsibility of users. According to Byer’s poll, the majority of people do not read agreements that they encounter on websites or mobile applications. This statistic is alarming and suggests that most users are unaware of potential dangers that can arise if they uncontrollably share their personal information with questionable organizations on the web. Despite the benefits that people have because of the Internet, the issue of sharing various personal information that can be further used for criminal activities remains. Regoli identifies this as one of the major downsides, also citing a need to upgrade equipment continuously, making people and businesses dependent, and encouraging pornography. Regardless, it is impossible not to appreciate the convenience of the Internet even with these issues, although it is evident that they should be addressed.
The original research for this essay is the poll of the faculty students regarding the place of the Internet in their lives. The aim was to determine how contemporary people use the Internet on a daily basis and how it benefits their life. In general, there were twenty questions regarding the daily use of the Internet, social media, and beneficial or adverse elements of its use. The poll was distributed using Survey Monkey’s free platform. The majority of respondents stated that they use the Internet on average three to five hours a day. They see a beneficial impact of it in their lives since they report saving time on shopping activities, communication and other social interactions, and even education. The final element is especially crucial since the respondents are students, and how they use the Internet to improve their studies is an essential question. Expectedly, all respondents report using the web to access their educational materials and submit tasks. However, fifty percent also cite that they use various websites to improve their professional knowledge further and take courses that can help them advance their careers.
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Overall, the history of the Internet suggests that many scientists and researchers, for example, teams from UCLA and Stanford, Cerf, Licklider, Kahn, and others, contributed to its development. Before it became the web that people use today, it has undergone several stages, beginning with the two-node packet exchange, the TCP/IP, and the World Web. The government of the United States played an essential role in introducing and supporting the process of developing this technology. The invention of a PC was influential in the context of the Internet’s popularization since it allowed many users to access the web from their homes. In the contemporary world, there are many benefits to this technology, and people can use it to locate information, communicate, study, and even work. The adverse effect is Internet addiction, characterized as an inability to perform everyday activities and constantly browsing web pages. The original research suggests that students take advantage of the various features available to them through the Internet, including access to online libraries and education facilities, communication means, and shopping.
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