It’s easy to forget the positive impact of the Internet and the World Wide Web
Mention the Internet and the chances are the initial response will be negative or circumspect. It’s easy to see why. The invasive nature of junk e-mails, probable scams and screen addiction are just a few of the latent menaces. Add to that the pain and abuse that come with trolling, cyber-bullying and pornography, and we could be excused for assuming that the web is a dark influence indeed.
The negatives should not be ignored. They really do cause harm and every society has a duty to control and limit those and other pernicious online behaviours.
However, we should be careful about letting the bad overwhelm the good. The huge majority of online activity is good and at worst it does no harm. On balance, the impact on the lives of millions, possibly billions, of people has been demonstrably positive.
Here are some striking examples as to why we should be profoundly grateful for the Internet.
Easy social communication
On a personal level, the last two years have emphasised how useful, even vital, online communication can be. With multiple lockdowns and frequent self-isolations during the Covid pandemic, online communication has been a lifeline. Live video get-togethers have enabled friends, families and loved ones to stay in touch when they were otherwise unable to meet.
Even emails, text messages and social media posts have played their part and continue to do so. And while there is no doubt at all that Covid restrictions prevented many people from being with their loved ones in times of illness and grief, it is probably also the case that those experiences would have been even worse with no communication at all.
On a wider scale, online communication has enabled us to keep in touch with friends and family worldwide, quickly and easily. Often the only barrier to contact is a difference of time zone. In developing economies, rural mobile communication has leap-frogged landline phones, bringing with it access to services like banking when none exists locally.
Getting organised – and more democratic
Think of all the groups of friends, sports clubs, hobby groups and societies that use the Internet to share information and get organised. Think of buying tickets for a concert or play, of booking rail or plane tickets, or a table at a restaurant. It’s easy to forget how seamless and convenient these processes have become – all because of the Internet.
On a different theme, consider the power of mobile communication in the political sphere. Mass movements, often of oppressed political oppositions, have been given new life and speed of action through digital communiction and social media messaging. It’s no surprise that oppressive regimes fight to keep control of mobile network infrastructures.
Government civil servants too have caught on, so in most countries it is now possible to access legislation, guidelines and information more quickly and easily than ever before – without having to unpick the filtering and unconscious bias implicit in a journalist’s explanation, for example.
The marketplace really is worldwide
The Internet has revolutionised the way we shop. This is not just about Amazon and other online marketplaces; it’s also about supermarket deliveries (another lifeline during the pandemic) and being able to buy on a global basis for goods which would otherwise have been out of reach – physically and financially.
Flipping the coin from consumer to producer or service supplier, it’s easy to see the benefits here too. With the scope and power of the Internet, businesses can communicate quickly (and cheaply) with existing and potential customers. It is increasingly rare to find a business that has no website – even my local greengrocers are in on the act - and it is unusual to find a business that doesn’t do some form of online marketing.
Business will never be the same again – in a good way
Most ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses have a website, very often advertise online and use social media for marketing. However, the Internet has also facilitated something quite different – businesses functioning purely online.
The web has enabled entrepreneurs, professionals and experts to create businesses which have no physical presence. These businesses operate almost entirely online and rely on their websites, social media posts, and social media and search engine advertising; Facebook and Google come to mind but there are other options too!
The benefits are multiple, but coalesce around the ease and immediacy of communication, including an emphasis on the visual, especially video. Think of the attraction and effectiveness of Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube, for example. Consider the versatility of online networking using Zoom or similar.
And, in something of a chicken and egg relationship, online activity is supported by a wide variety of businesses which can help you get the best out of using the Internet commercially. These range from website designers and developers, copywriters, specialists in video and animation, and experts in the use of paid for ads and ‘soft’ social media marketing. Their accumulated experience, skill and expertise keeps the very real ‘virtual’ economy moving forward and more efficient as time goes on.
Pause for thought: it goes back further than we assume
The Internet is not a new phenomenon. However, from the perspective of 2022 the online world really came to life with the World Wide Web in 1990 and the development of smartphones later the same decade. Then in the 2000s came the arrival of now iconic brands such as Nokia, Blackberry and the iPhone - not forgetting the Android operating system in 2008.
Progress has been in leaps and bounds since. Now the world really is in the palm of your hand. Use it well, use it wisely and enjoy the benefits it brings.
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