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Sarah Speaks: A closer look at the Internet

The invention of the Internet has become one of the greatest technological changes and has impacted the lives of Americans economically and socially.

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In today’s world, almost anything can be found on the Internet and it has an impact on almost every facet of our lives. People can order pizzas online, find relationships or shop for the perfect pair of shoes. Many items once thought inaccessible from one’s home are now accessible. For example, has even developed a way to get groceries from its warehouse to doorsteps. Companies which once had marginal profits are able to grow into large corporations by increasing revenues relatively cheap through the Internet. Consumers have the ability to view products, price check and order items off the Internet at their expediency.

With the Internet being so accessible, one must examine its impact on human interaction. There has been an extreme culture shift in the way people communicate and interact since the onset of the Internet age. It is no longer uncommon to see a family eating at a restaurant and not murmuring a single word to each other because they are using programs on a piece of technology — be it a smartphone or tablet — with content almost certainly generated via the Internet. Interviews can be conducted behind computer screens with software such as Skype replacing in-person interviews with face-to-face chats over a video phone call.

The government has moved forward in implementing changes using the Internet. It has helped draw more young people into voting. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign used the Internet more than any presidential campaign in history. It was the first time in history a majority of Americans said the Internet helped influence how they voted for president.

People are able to become more informed about policies and political candidates, and those who had no interest in politics are starting to get to the polls because there is better access to political information thanks to the Internet. Through social media, people are becoming more aware of issues that may be a concern to them and future generations. While the Internet is reaching out to the public and people are becoming more involved, they may not be receiving accurate information to make informed decisions.

The Internet has brought many changes, and along with change comes risk. With more Internet involvement, individual privacy runs a risk of being compromised. People use the Internet to connect to a variety of programs, including those run by the government and those that are operated by private entities. Many websites require people to provide personal information that could lead to criminal activity and, as recently revealed, instances of spying on everyday citizens. At the same time, hackers could potentially increase attempts to view protected government documents and tamper with information.

Though the size and complexity of the network has grown exponentially and anyone can make a website, the Internet cannot be easily filtered. The more governments become involved in using the Internet for their own systems, the more we may see Internet content passing through filters. This is currently the case in some countries, such as China, where the political powers have control over what is distributed on websites and its citizens are blocked from gaining access to certain websites.

The Internet being available to any person in the world means that any person in the world has the ability to start a business, make their own information available to mass audiences and reach billions of people they would not have otherwise reached. Because of the Internet, society has become more of a level playing field where everyone with Internet access has a chance to not only view much of the world’s information, but also help create and share information others will see.

The rise of social networks in the early 21st century has shown that one Internet user now has the ability to bring unfiltered information to the world. It costs nothing to make a blog, make a Twitter post or create a meme. However, one simple post has the potential to make revolutionary changes in society.

The Internet has created avenues for people in remote locations or those with busy schedules. However, contrary to popular belief, not everyone has the Internet. If the government moves toward programs running predominantly through the Internet in the future, people without Internet-linked computers in their homes may not have easy access. Recently, the Affordable Care Act launched on the Internet. Some rushed to sign up, but experienced a data glitch because the network lost connectivity. Others had to leave their homes and find a computer with Internet so they could attempt to sign up.

The Internet has shown that those who remain stagnant and refuse to keep up with new areas of technology run the risk of being left behind. Those of us who are “tech savvy” probably know someone that fits into this category. However, the more the Internet expands, the more new options, opportunities and goals become available. It has already happened and continues to take place every day.

What would happen if Internet were to disappear tomorrow? Aside from people experiencing a large amount of “phantom vibrations” where their phones used to be, the potential for losses would be astronomical.

Nearly every part of human society now runs through computers and the Internet. The financial markets, banks and trading systems would crash. Communications systems would be disrupted. Newspapers, radio and television stations would no longer be able to readily access information or relay it to the public. Infrastructures, especially those in major cities, would collapse since they are reliant on technology to run power grids. The ways in which the Internet affects the world are innumerable and the prospect of its collapse hindering our livelihoods is, for lack of a better word, scary. If there were no Internet, society would be at a total loss.

However, the odds of that happening are extremely slim. It is far more likely that the Internet will continue to grow and spread throughout the world, including our most remote places.

The Internet’s future is difficult to determine because of how quickly technology progresses. However, to do so, one must first look to the past. It was less than 20 years ago that the Internet began to take hold on every part of our society. In that time, we have gone from extremely slow dial-up modem connections to having wireless Internet available throughout homes, places of business and — in some cases — entire cities. The Internet is the one thing in existence that, to this point in our lives, holds the ability to shape the future of our planet and how we live, work and play.

I envision a future in which most of our lives are run through the Internet. We already gather a majority of our information online and spend countless hours looking at our phones and tablets for more information — almost, as studies have shown, until our brains can’t think anymore. In the next five years, we could see a rise in the use of live, in-home Internet video via programs like Skype as well as more information being delivered to us in faster, more convenient ways. Amazon is in the process of figuring out how to use drones to deliver packages within the hour that you ordered them. Google has an entire wing of its company dedicated to creating so-called “dream ideas,” or technology we’ve always wished we could see, touch and use. The company that began as a simple information search engine is now in the process of creating a car that can drive itself, among its many projects.

The Internet has been and continues to be the greatest technological, social and economic invention since the printing press. However, unlike the printing press, the Internet’s capabilities are far more vast. So much so that we have no idea how far the sharing of information and ideas can actually take us.