How the Internet has shaped the world – 25 years on
When Tim Berners-Lee first proposed the World Wide Web project in 1989, no one, and possibly not even the author himself, could have anticipated its seminal importance. The WWW project marked the founding of the digital age, and involved the development of the HTTP protocol and HTML web language, both of which are still used today for data transfer and web viewing respectively. Everything blossomed from Berners-Lee’s work, and that we celebrate the first website’s 25th birthday this week (created by the inventor himself) is testament to just how momentous an achievement the Internet has become.
The Internet is both pervasive in its application and ubiquitous in its function – having expanded to all corners of the globe, and is surely as vital to our day-to-day life as food or water. But it seems amazing that something originally intended to be a design for an information sharing network could have grown to such glorious heights, transcending all scopes of function and rapidly becoming mankind’s favourite tool for, well, just about everything.
Speaking of the Internet’s creation, Berners-Lee fittingly said: “Innovation is serendipity, so you don’t know what people will make.” It is this transition of the Internet from an ‘other world’, as Berners-Lee later described it, to a core aspect of our world that makes technological innovation so fascinating. Toward the end of 1990s, it was no longer something exclusive to the tech savvy, but became a tool and asset for ordinary people to access information, socialise and, gradually, for ecommerce and entertainment.
But inventions, and indeed their inventors, are seldom without philosophical contemplations. The Internet has afforded a great deal of rumination over its implications and consequences, inextricably so for its irreversible impact. The Internet’s founding principles of making information (and specifically academic information) readily available can still be seen today. For the most part, the Internet has proven a momentous force of social and economic progression, subverting past barriers of wealth, race or location. Websites enable shared access to information, and such information does not discriminate between one viewer and another.
But masquerading as technological benevolence is the Internet’s other side, emerged from a darker evolution. It’s fair to say that increasing humanity’s dependency upon any single thing – not least something thats perpetuity cannot be guaranteed – isn’t a great idea. It is true that we take access to our favourite websites for granted, and indeed it is satisfying to think that the Internet, unforeseen calamity notwithstanding, promises a level of digital immortality. But perhaps our digital world has been shaped too quickly, and too avidly. Because the Internet, for all of its benign graces, is also a tool for mass exposure and profiteering. The undercurrent of money portends a future in which all information is somehow monetized, evidence of which we can already see in sponsored content.
Websites for all of their good, remove us from the physical. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – this is a celebration of the Internet, after all, and not simply an endeavour in derision. Our digital world is sculpted on a level of removal, but within that is an element of truth versus fiction, wherein we daily deliver ourselves into a space of digital fabrications – with a dangerous inability to decipher between, for example, when we’re being talked to, sold to, or even preached to.
But the future is bright when not lived in ignorance – and so much of our world is still pioneering to a more equal, connected and shared future. So, portents aside, it’s right that we say happy birthday to the Internet and all of its wonderful provisions.