Digital Society
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Digital Society

The Internet

How have key developments in the history of the Internet made us more connected to information, and each other?

Photo of three tiles with W on them — by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. History of the Internet and Connectedness
  3. Purpose of the Internet
  4. Dangers of the Internet
  5. Summary

1. Introduction

Dr Craig Morley introduces this topic on the Internet. Full transcript here. MP3 version.

The Internet has not been with us for very long, but it has had a profound effect on society and the way we live our lives. In this topic, we will look at how the Internet has developed over time, and how it has changed the way we connect and engage with society.

In this topic you will:

  • Review the historical development of the Internet.
  • Discuss the purpose and use of the Internet.
  • Assess how the Internet has impacted society.

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2. History of the Internet and Connectedness

Screenshot of Netscape web browser version 0.92 from 1994Creative Commons CC0 1.0
Video with the sound of a dial-up modem connecting to the Internet

Both the above screenshot of a Netscape web browser from 1994 and this video of the sound of a modem connecting a personal computer to the Internet show how dramatically the Internet has changed throughout its history.

It is easy to imagine that the Internet developed along a neat and straight path to what it is today. However, this is not the case: the Internet of today is the result of a combination of ideas, technologies and certain individuals all becoming influential at different times. Its development can be seen in stages, with each stage reacting to what preceded it, and adapting to new technologies and the needs of new generations.

The beginnings of the Internet can be traced all the way back to 1945; the networked information systems that define how it works were built in the 1970s; public awareness of its possibilities increased in the 1990s; the Internet we are familiar with today is dominated by large platforms such as Facebook and Google.

Memex, computer utility and time sharing, packet switching, ARPANET, email, networks; the World Wide Web, Web 2.0, and Social Media have all contributed to the development of the Internet and the World Wide Web (if you don’t know the difference look it up!). Look through the timeline below to see how the Internet’s past continues to shape its present and future, and become familiar with the technologies that have either directly or indirectly influenced its continued development.

History of the Internet and Connectedness Timeline

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

What technological changes to the way you access or use the Internet have you experienced in your own lifetime?

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

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3. Purpose of the Internet

Image of a person taking a photograph on a mobile phone of their meal.
Photo by Eaters Collective on Unsplash

As you may have noticed from the timeline above, the technical basis of the Internet was designed to do completely different things to what it is used for today. At a technical level the Internet was designed for:

  • a community of academics and research scientists,
  • non-commercial uses (and did not include a charge to use of access),
  • research purposes,
  • use by experts only.

Today the Internet is used by a large variety of people across the world, not just experts, for a large variety of reasons. This was especially true during COVID-19 enforced lockdowns during 2020, when the internet became arguably even more important than ever for work, education, socialising and shopping, amongst many other things!

The below link gives us a clue as to how the Internet is now used on a routine daily basis (in the western world, at least).

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

How did the internet help keep you connected to wider society during lockdown?

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

There are many competing ideas about what the Internet should be used for, and different people and organisations have tried to influence this throughout its history. Two influential ideas can be seen below:

John Perry BarlowTim Berners Lee (see links for the original quotes)

💬 Contribute

Read the following prompt then add your contribution in the box below. Responses from the same person are the same colour. All comments are anonymous.

Having read the quotes from John Perry Barlow and Tim Berners-Lee, to what extent do you think each has succeeded in their aim? What purpose do you think the Internet should serve?

If you can’t access the comment box, please write a response to this post instead.

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4. Dangers of the Internet

Photo of laptop with pirate flag on screen — by Michael Geiger on Unsplash

As the number of Internet users has increased (as shown in the ‘History of the Internet’ timeline in Section 2), the dangers posed by this increased connectedness have also increased. For example, in the timeline we saw that viruses and other forms of cyber attacks have developed alongside the Internet itself.

The information video below was made in 1997, with a fictional all-American family exploring the possibilities of the Web and email. Look beyond the childish presentation and notice how the Internet is constantly presented as a force for positive change. Little thought or attention is given to the potential dangers of children connecting to other people across to world or accessing unfiltered information.

Video: The Kids Guide to the Internet (1997). Duration 27 minutes. Captions available.

✍ Padlet

Read the following prompt then add your contribution to the Padlet below. If you’re not logged on to Padlet your comments will be anonymous.

Reflecting back on your own experiences of learning to use the Internet, and thinking about modern news stories and your current personal experience, on the Padlet below give examples of some of the dangers of using the Internet.

Examples might include:

  • Child safety,
  • Cyber security,
  • Privacy,
  • Addiction.

Take a moment to look at other responses and form your own critical opinion about the safety or dangers of the Internet. We’ll be covering ‘critical analysis’ in the next topic so you might want to return to this Padlet afterwards.

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5. Summary

In this topic we have looked at the history of the Internet and connectedness.

Touching on broader themes from other topics we asked ourselves some philosophical questions about what the purpose of the Internet is in 2022 and where it goes from here.

Finally we saw how back in 1997 the Internet was viewed as a world of opportunity for children, with very little thought given to any negative aspects. The Internet in 2022 is completely different from the 1997 version featured in the video. These days society is much more aware of the potential (and actual) dangers for children and adults alike, from identity fraud to online stalking, from data privacy to cyber bullying. As the Internet develops many of the scams become more sophisticated and harder to spot. By sharing what we know about old and new dangers we can help each other be safer online.

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