The Internet is an essential part of daily life across the world. Connecting an enormous network of users across continents, across oceans and even locally, it is a resource of unprecedented importance. The Internet gives you access to entire libraries of information and is an invaluable tool for education, supporting schoolwork and even finding a job. However, as with all megaliths, it has its weak spots. There is a great deal of rubbish on the Internet mixed in with all the good stuff. Hunting through site after site for a piece of information can be tedious and very boring unless you are a ‘Google Expert’. There is also a concern amongst those who perhaps don’t use the Internet as frequently as their children that spending long periods ‘surfing the web’ equates to a massive waste of time. Time that could be spent in ways that are more productive or with the family.
The Internet is here to stay. In the last 20 years the explosion of home computer ownership, faster broadband connections and the falling price of computer hardware has meant that there are very few homes now that don’t have access to the World Wide Web. Initially started in the late 1960s so that U.S. Department of Defense researchers could share information with one another and with other researchers, it has grown to become the most common way to find information, advertise online and generally connect with as many people as quickly and as easily as possible.
The wealth of online learning resources and courses make it easy for anyone of any age to access up to the minute information about almost any topic you care to mention – from cooking to jobs in IT. The online learning applications also mean that if you’re looking for a change of career (in IT for example) there are plenty of opportunities to explore from the comfort of your own home that will give you the knowledge you need to start a new job or even improve your skills in your current position. The growth of forums has meant that students can also share information and exchange ideas in exactly the same way as they do on a face to face basis, but in an international ‘classroom’ that spans the globe. In a period where everyone has to assess their financial future, online courses can present the most cost effective and easy way to retrain for a completely new career.
IT is a huge growth industry, as nearly every market now depends on having an online presence. The explosion in popularity of sites such as Ebay has also shifted the way people exchange goods and buy everything from a pair of sunglasses to a new car. Without an online presence, companies cannot do business. It has also resulted in new jobs for previously technology-poor parts of the world. Outsourcing jobs to areas such as the Indian subcontinent and even further afield has meant that the global economy has interconnected in an unprecedented way, boosting economies and creating wealth and economic growth in countries that would have otherwise ‘missed the boat’.
The changing dynamic of social interaction
Facebook and MySpace have revolutionized how people interact with each other on the Internet. The popularity of social networking has led to the development of a new style of online contact, cumulating with sites such as Twitter where contributors post up to the minute notes on their daily activities and are limited to 140 characters per posting. Even the President of the United States ‘twitters’, allowing anyone to keep up with current events as they happen and even feel as if they are part of the international decision making process. Business has also seen how successful social networking can be and business-orientated networks have sprung up, connecting entrepreneurs across the world. High profile, high achievers can interact with everyone in a positive way, giving the general public access to some of the most influential thinkers and motivating others to make changes in their lives that they would have never previously considered.
The key to using the Internet successfully is personal responsibility and remembering that it is something that should be fun, not an all-consuming obsession. It’s too easy to get sucked into a site like Facebook or MySpace, become fixated on how many ‘friends’ you have in comparison to other users and generally waste a ridiculous amount of time chatting about the latest TV shows or celebrity. Social networking sites, as these have become known, are a great way to meet people online from all over the world, learn about different cultures and exchange ideas and views. As long as you remember that there is life outside Facebook…
Not only are social networks valuable as a means of connecting people, they also have a very high monetary value as well. Fortunes have been made on the Internet – all it takes is a little imagination and an ability to spot a gap in the market. Most Internet millionaires are in their twenties, giving anyone with an idea and the passion to create something new and exciting hope that they too can become an Internet millionaire.
Parents who are worried about the access their children have to inappropriate Internet sites do have some control over what their children look at. The simplest way to limit access to sites that may have adult content is to choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that can offer ‘Parent Control’ protocol settings. This blocks access to sites that may carry adult content, for example. Monitoring the software that children download from the Internet also enables parents to ensure the safety of not only their children, but of their Internet connection as well. A lot of free downloads carry ‘spam’, which can clog up a system. Some also carry computer viruses, so the installation of adequate firewalls and anti-virus software is a must.
It’s also a simple matter of laying down some simple ground rules regarding Internet use, such as the amount of time spent on the Internet, which forums or social networking sites are acceptable and so on. You cannot stop children from using the Internet – in fact it is actively encouraged by the education system as an important tool in children’s schooling – but you can encourage your children to use the Internet responsibly. It’s also a matter of explaining to them the potential dangers of becoming too involved with ‘online friends’. The real problem with social networking is the anominity it gives those whose intentions may be more sinister. The ground rule is never allow your children to agree to ‘meet and greet’ in person. By keeping an electronic barrier between your child and others online, you can ensure that your children stay safe.
Used effectively, the Internet can be an enriching experience allowing people all over the world to expand their friendships, regardless of international boarders. It can encourage language growth and development, a spirit of entrepreneurial zeal and a window on a world that was previously inaccessible. With its future assured, the Internet is a positive influence on modern life that will continue to influence how we do business, how we meet people and how we learn for many years to come.