OPINION – Last week, when my daughter Brooke turned 18, it occurred to me that I’m now father to two adult children.
This gave me the opportunity to stop and reflect on just how much the world has changed in their lifetimes. All the tiny individual changes that took place over the past two decades become much more significant when viewed collectively.
For instance, payphones have slowly disappeared as cellphones have evolved into tiny computers and recording devices on which we make phone calls. Videocassettes, CDs, and even DVDs have given way to High Definition video and audio on demand.
Televisions have gone from big screens to flat screens to crystal clear LCD and plasma displays. The home computer has increased in speed and memory while simultaneously shrinking down to laptop and tablet size.
Impressive as these advancements are, the biggest game-changer in the past 20 years is the Internet.
Few of us could have comprehended how greatly it would affect so many areas of our lives. Even members of the intelligentsia grossly underestimated its impact. Economist Paul Krugman famously wrote in the mid-1990s:
By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.
Think for a moment about how many aspects of our lives the Internet has impacted. Nowhere has this been more apparent than in terms of how we get our news and information.
When I first started in radio 30 years ago, every station had a Teletype news wire that printed news updates around the clock. We went through a small forest’s worth of paper rolls each year keeping that printer going.
When something really newsworthy happened, like the space shuttle blowing up, the printer would sound an alarm. Between the newswire, the newspaper, and network feeds, that’s how we got our information to broadcast.
Today, the Internet supplies our news feeds with up-to-the-minute updates, audio, and video. Supplemental information is simply a mouse click away and we often can access material, including sound bites, while we’re actually broadcasting.
As our national press has become little more than government sycophants, we can bypass them to find more objective news sources.
What used to require hours of research at the library can be accessed immediately. Want to learn how to change out an electrical outlet? Properly butcher a rabbit? How to do Cartesian Geometry? There’s a YouTube video to show you how it’s done.
We have an unfathomable amount of information right at our fingertips compared to pre-Internet days. The downside is that there are plenty of obscure topics and distractions that can turn into time wasters if we lack self-control.
The economy is another area where the Internet has had undeniable impact. A person can research pretty much any item they want, compare reviews, order it, and track its delivery right to their door. Online retailers like Amazon.com have made it simple for even chronic procrastinators to never drop the ball on an important birthday or anniversary gift.
The biggest danger of shopping made so simple is that it’s ridiculously easy to spend a lot of money buying things online. This can be particularly true for individuals who are prone to order stuff out of boredom.
On the other hand, there is great convenience in being able to bank or pay bills online
One of the greatest advances over the pre-Internet era is the ability for people to work from almost anywhere. I can write, produce and edit voice work, and teach classes to students in many different locations — all from my home office.
A third area in which the Internet has caused a major societal shift is how we socialize with one another.
The good aspects include being able to instantly connect with friends and loved ones around the world. Online dating can provide access to an almost unlimited dating pool where people can get acquainted without having to commit to an actual date. However, too much time spent online can lead to a detachment from real people.
Individuals with a message to share now have a platform that doesn’t require the permission of a publishing gatekeeper. Blogs and discussion boards abound where like-minded souls can gather and commiserate.
Sadly, the relative anonymity of online discussion brings more than a few twisted minds out into the open. Thankfully, the cure for online trolls is as simple as ignoring them.
We’re all well aware of the dark aspects of the Internet, but the positives changes it has brought us are better than most of us could have imagined.
Anyone want to guess at what the next 20 years will bring?
- Attorney General Reyes, Google Execs meet on internet safety
- What the HAYnes? The Internet and Double Stuf Oreos on trial
- On the EDge: News reporting before the Internet
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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