Over the last decade the internet has become a familiar presence in most of our lives and beyond providing us with an unprecedented source of information it has also fundamentally changed the way we communicate, shop, socialise and even carry out our politics. But for those who are yet to take their first tentative steps online, what are the main benefits that lie ahead.
1. A Source of Information
The advent of the internet was anticipated to bring the world access to new levels of information and for many that is still the primary reason to log on. The sources of information can though come in all manner of ‘shapes and sizes’ ranging from individual companies’ websites, providing information surrounding the products and services they offer, to information sites run by organisations that act as authorities on various topics, passionate individuals, community led encyclopedias, news sites and dedicated online learning sites.
For example, someone with questions regarding their health can refer to the UK’s NHS website free of charge to find out information that may have only been available before by consulting a clinician or by investing in medical literature and books.
An advantage that the internet offers as a medium for this information (against for example, a book) is that it can be kept up to date and relevant almost instantaneously as information and data changes without the need for it to be recirculated or re-purchased. A prime example of this are news sites which are able to show people news as it breaks without having to wait until the paper rounds the next morning.
Many sites manage keep their content fresh and up-to-date by calling upon communities of contributors. Perhaps the most referenced information source on the internet, Wikipedia, relies on thousands of un-paid contributors to provide the content for the site.
In addition many specialist sites have forums which not only allow users to supply information but to request it and discuss it and therefore provide a means for people to find out almost anything they need to. All of this contributor based information is of course susceptible to inaccuracies by its nature but by taking sensible precautions, the internet can be the most invaluable resource.
What’s more, the ease with which we access this information is constantly improving as search engines compete with each other and evolve to give you the links to the websites that you are really looking for out of the billions that are currently on the world wide web.
2. Communicating & Socialising
Arguably the most revolutionary communication channel that the internet has opened up is that of email – the ability for people to send instant communications to other people no matter where they are in the world. Before the arrival of the internet and email, someone in the UK who wanted to send a picture to a friend or colleague at the other end of the country, never mind the other side of the world, would have had to wait days for it to arrive.
The ability to communicate over the internet has moved on considerably from simple email though. People are increasingly using the internet as a way of socialising day-to-day and keeping in touch in friends and loved ones. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, give people the chance to share and discuss all aspects of their lives with their friends (and the general public) – their favourite pictures, videos, music, games and websites.
The term ‘Social Media’ is a broad umbrella term for a number of different services and technologies such as blogging (sharing your thoughts and opinions in short articles), instant messaging, sharing of online content and tweeting (small text updates on thoughts and activities). The major advantages of these services being that many are free and accessible at any time of the day wherever you are in the world.
The concept of sharing is key to social networking and with the instantaneous nature of communications, the variety of media which can be shared and the lack of geographical boundaries, the internet can help build relationships which would have been impossible before. People can easily find and stay in touch with friends that they may have lost touch with over the years and meet new people with similar interest that they would never have otherwise met. Consequently one particular area of the internet that is booming is that of online dating, providing people with the chance to find love beyond their location, work place or social circles.
Most communication in social networking ultimately occurs in writing or text and therefore the use of social media, as well as forums and mobile phone texting, has even changed the way we use language with many abbreviations and acronyms making their way into everyday ‘offline’ language.
Social media encourages the building of online communities that far exceed the reach of traditional communities in terms of both geographical location and sheer numbers. These communities can in turn pool information as mentioned before but also unite behind causes, good or bad, as seen with the contrasting examples of the recent riots in London and the moves to sign e-petitions calling for documents regarding the Hillsborough tragedy to be made public.
In addition to social media, the internet has even changed the way we communicate with each other over the phone. Traditional phone networks and services are being challenged by what is known as VoIP (Voice over the Internet Protocol) which is essentially a way in which sound is transferred over the internet in small digital packets of information instead of down standards phone lines. The big benefits for most of us are that we can now speak to loved ones elsewhere in world for far less expense than ever before and often we can integrate other elements such as instant messaging and face-to-face video conferencing into our conversations.
3. Shopping and Money
The internet has revolutionised the way in which we all shop. Virtually every business which sells goods and services has an online presence with most providing people with the option to buy directly from their website. In addition to traditional shops, a vast array of new online shops have grown up, such as Amazon, whilst sites such as eBay allow you to buy and sell in auction conditions to get the best deal. For most products, their availability is not restricted by physical location as they will usually be delivered to your door. Whatever you are looking to buy, the chances are that someone is looking to sell it on the internet, and you can buy it without leaving your house.
With the saying in mind that “time is money”, the internet is also vital in providing people with the ability to manage their finances in an instant. Although many people may have concerns over the security of making transactions online banking has revolutionised the way in which both businesses and individuals look after their money. youtube live stream viewers