On 25th December 1990, Tim Berners-Lee had a very productive day. Whipped up in a vortex of technological vocabulary none of us could understand, three precious words were written across a page linked between a Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) client and a server. In that moment, Berners-Lee created a network of information, a spinal cord of communication and several generations of social networking nerds. In all its unpredictable glory, the World Wide Web was born.
We are the Internet generation. Ignore or avoid as much as you like, but the fact remains that if your birth years falls after 1989 you will be unable to remember a time where there was no World Wide Web. From that special Christmas day, a society that was operated by wired telephones, address books and signed cheques changed forever.
Amid the storm of electronic mail and online messageboards, and the format wars between AOL and Internet Explorer, we gradually became accustomed to watching Internet pages slowly unfold down our computer screen. As our generation grew up, our addiction to the online lifestyle became worse. What some may call an obsession, we recognise as a childhood companion that developed alongside us.
If change is good, then the future is bright. Obvious as it may be, the purposes of our Internet consumption are divided equally between our social networking habits and education-fuelled research. The use of the Internet in 16-24 year olds grew in tandem with the development of social media and internet-based technology, encouraging us to draw parallels between them.
While the launches of MySpace in 2003 and Facebook in 2004 grabbed our attention, it wasn’t until 2006, after the YouTube and Twitter were introduced – and the release of the first iPhone by Apple – that we took a real interest. Evidently, with 83% of young adult users online 2006, a figure that increased to 90% in 2007, the growing trend of social networking was (and still is) the main reason we log online.
But it’s not all fun and games. Knowing the Internet like the back of our hand enables us to manipulate it towards greater uses, such as education or even towards improving our lifestyle. Although students after us will have the same advantages of Wikipedia and Jstor, they could potentially lack the same sentimental-laced notion of respect for what these websites have done for them.
Our generation, arguably, will make use of these resources with a faded memory of life before them, remembering those exhausting childhood trips to the library and hefting around encyclopedias. As of October 2012, Wikipedia has over 23 million individual articles and Jstor is reported to have received 90 million searches in 2010. This convenience enables us to spend more time actually working (or so we’d like to think), thus advancing our methods of learning drastically – something our older siblings and parents would have desperately appreciated.
However, not all the advancements since this glorious revolution are worth celebrating. The problem with an all-accessible vortex of information is that it can be manipulated towards a purpose that is far less productive than what was originally envisioned. With the exploitation of pornography, online film and infamous Phishing scams, not only are the naïve targeted and exploited with sophisticated hacking technology, but billion-dollar industries are undermined, resulting in large scale losses and a decline in the industry overall. Moreover, the fact that hackers were able to access US officials’ Gmail accounts in June 2011 demonstrates the awkward paradox between our dependence on Internet access, the abuse of said network and simple cases of mistaken identity.
Considering topics close to home, the suspension of University of Nottingham lecturer Dr Rod Thornton and the arrest of a Masters student and a member of University staff, Rizwaan Sabir and Hitcham Yezza respectively, hosts a prime example. The University flagged the downloading of an al-Qaeda training manual and Sabir and Yezza were held in custody for six days without charge on suspicion of terrorist activity.
Although the document was publicly available on a US government website and was downloaded for the purpose of academic study, this incident illustrates the essence of the difficulty we face as we live and work within a network that stands for a very risky notion of freedom of speech.
In contrast, there is the pending issue that many of our parents hold dear to: what about life outside a computer screen? We may be a generation of technological nerds, but with the advancement of the Internet it seems that other recreational hobbies have been left behind. Sport, reading, artistic pursuits or unique skills are what sculpt us into well rounded individuals and are the all-important conversation starters with future employers. Furthermore, few things are more awkward in life than a blank looking CV and an empty glaze when asked about your recreational hobbies. We may have grown out of our weekly tennis lessons but, as it stands, we’re less creative as a generation because we’ve simply forgotten to log off from our online persona, addicted to killing time with the likes of 9gag and Tumblr.
Sadly, we can’t go back now. Much like an additional limb, the Internet is an absolute necessity for most of our daily routine. While our favoritism may seem misguided by the older generation, the sentimental value it holds for both our personal and professional lives is set in stone, a relic to be passed down through every generation to come. We can recall the slow pace of life before broadband Internet and, although the online advantages have erased the importance of some sentimental hobbies, the advantages of email, social networking and file sharing are considerably more important that the preservation of a life already lived. Although we might not know what exactly Berners-Lee was trying to accomplish back in 1990, the results of his efforts changed the world forever and we’ll always be thankful for that.