Magazine article Information Today

Where the Internet Is Taking Us: With Its Widespread Adoption as a Primary Source for Information Access and Communications, the Internet Continues to Transform Our Businesses, Our Institutions, and Our Lives

Magazine article Information Today

Where the Internet Is Taking Us: With Its Widespread Adoption as a Primary Source for Information Access and Communications, the Internet Continues to Transform Our Businesses, Our Institutions, and Our Lives

Article excerpt

Year-end is a time to look backward and forward. In terms of the Internet, looking backward gives us a clear view of the tremendous changes that have been taking place in our culture as result of widespread access to the Net. Looking forward taps into the hopes and fears that visionaries have for the planet as a whole and the roles the Internet might play in realizing these dreams.

Quick Facts

Worldwide, access to the Net has grown more than 125 percent since 2000, with European users (28.4 percent) now slightly surpassing North American users (27.3 percent), according to InternetWorldStats.com.

There's still a long way to go. Only 12.7 percent of the global population are Internet users compared with 68.3 percent of North Americans. The areas of the world with the lowest percentage of Internet users are Africa (1.4 percent), the Middle East (6.7 percent), Asia (7.1 percent), and Latin America/ Caribbean (10.3 percent).

In the U.S., we've passed some significant Internet milestones.

The Net has become the dominant information provider among the critical 18- to 24-year-old age group in the U.S., who are looking for a "what-I-want-when-I-want-it" medium, according to a study issued in April by the Online Publishers Association (OPA).

The Internet has also become the dominant source of information for regular Internet users, according to findings of an Annenberg Center for the Digital Future study issued in late September. Increasingly, people are even watching TV and listening to radio on the Net.

Marketplace Trends

With its widespread adoption as a primary source for information access and communications, the Internet continues to transform our businesses, our institutions, and our lives.

After reviewing and embellishing on past Perspectives columns, I compiled the following list of a few of the emerging Internet trends:

* Free and For-a-Fee Infoglut. There has been a proliferation of online publications, many partially or fully available at no charge. Yet, increasingly, people are paying for online information. Last year, according to the OPA, U.S. consumers spent nearly $1.6 billion for online content. Online searching continues to get better, with desktop integration of simultaneous online and offline searching being the latest development.

* Interoperability and Ubiquity. The common use of MP3 and XML has revolutionized the distribution of audio and text files over the Net, allowing users a wide range of content choices and providing for easy transfers. As a result, more content originally distributed via the Net is found on stand-alone digital tools. This has revolutionized the music industry, and we're starting to see its effects on the publishing world. Wireless has been another bridge builder, and instant messaging (IM) appears to be moving in the same direction.

* A Personal Medium. The Internet has become a more personal medium than anyone ever imagined. From online diaries, travelogs, chatting, dating, and social networks to personal spiritual content, online churches, and virtual meditation and retreats, online content has become an important means of self-expression. Interactivity increases when blogs and online articles invite reader comments.

* Broadband and Multimedia. Broadband has already traversed the critical mass threshold, and new Internet programming is increasingly multimedia. Long a delivery system for music, the Internet is becoming a significant delivery platform for film and video. Home theaters that include Internet-delivered materials are becoming a reality, and many new homes and living complexes now feature built-in broadband for entertainment and services.

* Widespread Adoption by Trusted Institutions. With increasing trust in the security of electronic transactions has come growth in online banking and brokerage, virtual campuses, and e-government. Nonprofit organizations solicit membership and contributions online. …

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