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The Importance of the World Wide Web
In 1980, Tim Berners-Lee had a vision for a 'global information space', although it wasn't until 1990 that the World Wide Web with line mode browser was released to the academic community to develop. In 1995, Thabo Mbeki gave the web huge publicity at the G7 summit; he said that people should ‘seize the opportunity to use the web'. Microsoft had also released Windows 95 with Internet Explorer (Lecture for History of Communications - Professor Ann Macintosh). The web has started to play an important role in people's everyday lives because of the amount of use and the things that can be done online, whether it's researching information, or playing games. The number of people online has grown at a remarkable rate as the internet ‘only took 7 years to reach 50 million users, against the almost 50 years needed for the telephone or the 20 years for television'. ‘In 2006, the number of Internet users worldwide reached over one billion' (Internet World Stats, 2006 cited in Küng et al, 2008, p.87). It raises the question: Could we imagine a life without the web now that it's changed the way in which we communicate and find information? In order to find out the overall importance of the World Wide Web I will need to analyse how people use it for social interaction and entertainment, such as social networking, and how it's used within culture, e.g. education. The argument will look at both positive and negative aspects to give a balanced overall view.
The web has had an impact on the music industry. Küng et al (2008) writes that the number of music downloads are on an increase and the overall sales from digital download were over 75 percent in 2005. This could become important for the future of the music industry as it will have a significant impact on CD sales, music is now obtainable from the comfort of your own home, singles are cheaper to buy and with the introduction of music streaming programs such as Spotify, the future of the music industry is in jeopardy as media sales will surely plummet. The aforementioned Spotify boasts ‘10 million streams a day in the UK alone' (Brindley 2009), showing that people no longer feel the need to purchase CDs and waste their money on something they can just as easily get for free. However, the web has increased online sharing of music, which has raised concerns about the industries future. 'A study in 2000, reported than 14% of Internet users had downloaded music for free. This number has grown rapidly and online music sharing has been estimated to result in annual sales losses of $3.1 billion by 2005 for the music industry' (Bhattacharjee et al 2003 p.107). This would create problems with the loss of economic output for the countries where the music is produced; the artists would find a loss in their earnings, jobs may be lost at record companies and with CD sales falling and online music increasing, it will continue to have a negative effect on those in the music business.
Over the past few years the popularity of online shopping has increased. 'Forrester Research's projection estimated a global e-commerce figure of 6.8 trillion dollars in 2004' (Business Week, 2001: 128 cited in Castells 2002. p.66), which shows that the e-commerce is appealing to a large market. More and more people are using the internet to purchase goods, succumbed to the convenience of browsing and purchasing products from their own home and the added benefits of having more choice online and the attraction of many websites offering lower prices than in local High Street stores, so people are able to save money. Online shopping is only set to increase with the younger generation spending more time on the web, becoming more accustomed to doing things on the internet as they have been bought up with it from a young age. However, shopping online has the risk of fraud. Grazioli and Jarvenpaa (2000) writes that a ‘Fraud Watch' site receives an average of 1000 frauds per month including purchasing defective goods and paying in advance for goods that won't show up. Consumers have to be extremely careful in giving out their details, although the web makes it difficult to evaluate if a site is trustworthy or not. Although as increasing numbers are using the web, fraudsters will no doubt find new ways to fraud people online, to try and overrule the security measures in place on shopping websites.
The web has become an important social tool, with the use of email, instant messaging and social networking websites. Castells (2002 p.118) writes that ‘e-mail represents over 85 percent of internet usage'. Slevin (2000) writes that instant messaging is a popular application and the ability to communicate online could be of life changing importance - friends are able to keep in contact with each other and parents are able to keep in contact with distant relatives. 'There were 89 social networking sites ('List' 2006). The largest network, MySpace, at that time boasted 113 million users' (Küng et al 2008 p. 69). This shows just how communication has evolved, and how important it's starting to become. It allows people to communicate easier in online networks much faster and more efficiently than before, especially as it's accessible 24/7, which must have a positive effect on people's overall social interaction. However, there are many risks concerning communication via instant messaging, email and social networking sites, including identity theft, viruses being sent through emails, chances of an individual tampering with emails and one of the most common, cyber-bullying. Campbell (2005) writes that technology can be beneficial, but can also be used for harm especially by children and adolescents as a way to bully others, which is becoming a growing global problem, with not enough awareness. In a way, technology has evolved and so has the methods of bullying with it, with texting, emails and hate websites. It will no doubt continue to change as new website ‘crazes' will occur and perhaps new methods of bullying online. ‘The internet more than any other medium is seen by some as eroding ‘community' and ‘emptying' day-to-day life by allowing individuals and organisations to enter into a virtual time-space'. (Selvin 2000 p. 41). This is understandable as more people are spending time online rather than doing other social activities away from the computer, which could lead to people becoming ‘addicted' to the web - a virtual world full of opportunities and information.
The World Wide Web is an ever-increasing database where information is easy to obtain. 'Reference books and encyclopaedias in print are being put out of business by the internet in a trend that underlines the importance of the educational and information-seeking uses of the internet over its entertainment function. Textbooks offer extraordinary potential for electronic publishing among other things, because libraries do not have the physical space to cope with the ‘information explosion' and are gearing up to offer books and journals online' (Castells 2002 p.198). People now have easy access to information sources, such as journals etc, which could have required a lot more ‘effort' 10 years or so earlier as the web is available 24 hours a day and most of the information is free to view. One of the main problems with using information found online is the possible inaccuracies. It's why universities and schools prefer for their students to use academic journals and books instead of webpage's, so they can obtain accurate information. A website that has mixed views about its information is Wikipedia. Denning et al (2005) writes that information on Wikipedia may not always be accurate and that you don't know the motives of those contributing to the articles; they may be doing it for a joke or trying to start rumours. It shows how quickly something may be misinterpreted and how careful people have to be with making sure information they find online is credible.
News from all over the world can also be accessed via the web. ‘Citizens from all over the world can read thousands of daily and non daily newspapers'. (Küng et al, 2008, p.65). This gives people worldwide an understanding of culture all around the world and encourages people to read news online due to its accessibility and convenience. ‘Established Newspapers have to be online in order to be always there ready for their readers, to keep them under their authoritative mantra. So doing, the newspapers hope that the physical contact with a very portable and user-friendly format of the printed papers, will still fill a need, and ultimately benefit from it's online ubiquitous presence' (Castells 2002 p. 198). Newspapers have had to evolve with the technology as print sales started to decline. Going online would have helped newspapers keep their audience and attract new readers as their stories could be published on search engines if someone searched for a particular topic they could have written about, therefore increasing the papers overall recognition and perhaps reputation. However, Vargo et al (2000) writes that newspapers online seem to be forgetting their readers. They are putting anything they can, and as quick as they can online. It's information overload - there are so many sections, links, and rival websites posting the same news. Sometimes Newspaper's don't publish the same news online, that's in their printed newspaper, which leaves those who don't buy a printed newspaper at a disadvantage. Online news therefore can't be seen as beneficial compared to some other services online; as it just seems to be something they have ‘had' to do as technology has advanced.
Educational establishments are using the web for their students. ‘Virtual Learning Environments' are now being widely used in schools and universities. Perrie (2003) writes that they enable students and staff to enhance communication networks through chat rooms, discussion boards and e-mails, enables staff to assess students through assignments made available online and give feedback and provide educational documents. Using a VLE means that material can be accessed at any time when connected to the internet and allows a wide variety of material to be retrieved. It can be updated easily by staff and improves student-teacher interaction as feedback and advice is able to be given easily and rapidly. It shows how education has benefited from the enhancements in learning that the VLE's bring to staff and students. VLE's have a number of disadvantages such as 'off campus access', which can be slow and expensive, can become a dumping ground for material designed for online delivery, learning material can become outdated, online support must be planned carefully to avoid tutor overload, both tutors and students may need training on the administration and running of the VLE and increased learning expectations. Initially simple, VLE is expected to become more and more sophisticated and this requires more tutor administration, lack of face-to-face interaction and student social contact' (Perrie 2003 p. 795). VLE's may therefore be taking away important elements of learning, such as face-to-face social interaction and perhaps making future generations lose out on invaluable learning as education is clearly evolving with the technology.
Overall the web has had many benefits both socially and culturally; the ability to communicate with distant relatives and the amount of information available online to use. However, it does have its disadvantages like music piracy and the loss face-to-face interaction through VLEs in educational establishments. So, could we imagine a life without the web now that it's changed the way in which we communicate, use for entertainment and find information? The above argument suggests that we wouldn't be able to. It has taken on an important role in our everyday lives with the amount of people using it and the ever-increasing number of things that we are able to do with it, for example, newspapers being put up online as well as in print. The web has become so important to many because of the convenience of being able to access it easily from their own homes and the amount of choice available online. The internet is important in the 21st century and will continue to be of significant importance in the future as technology advances and new programs becoming available to make our lives that little bit easier.
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