The Internet and Social Impact

The Internet and Social Impact

The internet is a complicated abstract space where users have the free range to express themselves, share information, and use is as they will; researchers have seen this, and wonder exactly how the internet is used to impact, negatively or not, mainstream culture. The first research of computer networks was introduced by  J.C.R. Licklider. He was the first person to conceptualize what we know now to be “The Web.” He went on to be the head of the first ever computer research program at The Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). This company changed its name to Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in 1971. Many more researchers were intrigued by the implications of having a network where users can access any information from any location. This brought a surge in internet research.

The first pioneers of the web did not consider all of the possibilities that the internet would eventually come to offer its users. These first researchers were interested in mostly professional uses. This included the sharing of data and research between scientists, and publishing work. These first internet networks, one of which called ARPANET, were set up at major universities and government research centers. These networks sent data to a central host that could then send the data out to other network hubs to be accessed with the computers connected to that hub. At the time, citizens wondered why the government was so interested in this project; some questioned if it was a project intended for military use. Government officials argued that the internet, in this early stage, was to allow secluded scientists to have access to more research that is relevant to them.

The internet, while under the supervision of the government, was not open for commercial use. It was not until 1995, before computers started appearing in people’s homes around the world. As the internet became more of a household name, more and more research was being funded by companies that capitalized on the surge of internet users. The commercialization of the web drastically changed the way companies could market to people in their homes. This new media hub also increased the spread of knowledge.

In 1995 the Net saw an almost immediate and surprising shift. Government regulations did not allow users of the internet to contribute. In 1995 when the government agency controlling the usages and development of internet technology, NSFNET, was decommissioned, the regulations barring private entities from adding websites to the internet were lifted. This quickly changed the way social culture interacted with the information around them. A report from MIT, just three months after government rules were lifted, gave a detailed summary of the types of websites that quickly appeared.

Gaining access to the internet has been an issue from the get go. Buying the technology, and educating people to operate it was difficult. Vincent explains quickly in his report the average users of the internet. These individuals where 31-year-old, male professionals, who made over $65,000 yearly. Christopher R. Vincent, the researcher, noted that the internet took an important role in society. Web sites were being created for popular television shows, and magazines. A majority of the almost instant explosion of the internet was caused by companies using capitalizing on the newest advertising space. The companies often used their new-found power to persuade to impact culture all at once by moving their marketing to the internet.

Companies, such as Fox and MTV, were the first to experiment with the new-found functions of the internet. The new platform created a perfect space for these companies to create a buzz. The Net allowed users to interact with the media they were viewing. The Net encouraged people from very different geographical locations to come together, or argue about current events and products. Uses for the Net have continued moving in this commercial direction ever since. The creation of social media eventually allowed all individuals to be the product.

Though the Web known today is much more developed, even more social change is on the horizon with researchers currently researching the possibility of free internet available for every person in the world to use. This movement has the potential to further alter the impact the internet has on social culture on a global level.

Opinion by Joshua Shane


Internet Society
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 
Critical Studies in Media Communication


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