On the surface, it was a bad year for the Internet.
The dot.com bust left hundreds of companies out of business,
thousands of people out of work, and millions of investors out-of-
But as investors and the economy tried to avoid being sucked down
in the whirlpool created when dot.com companies and their stocks
capsized, the actual, everyday world of cyberspace continued to
transform the ways we live, work, study, play, and just, well, waste
Part of the reason that some people may have missed the
significance of the Internet's increasing impact is that it was no
longer a fad, but more and more an everyday part of life, and thus
Even if you decided you didn't want to use it to buy groceries,
when you clear out all the Wall Street static, the facts online
speak for themselves: Web users grew at a healthy pace.
As of August 2001, more than 513 million people were online, an
increase of about 150 million from the year before. And that's not
counting the many others who signed up after Sept. 11. Many of them
came from the US - 72.3 percent of Americans use the Internet, an
increase of about 6 percent from last year, according to the UCLA
Internet Report 2001.
New classroom - the Internet
Take education, for instance. The Pew Internet and American Life
Project found that "94 percent of youth aged 12-17 who have Internet
access say they use the Internet for school research, 78 percent say
they believe the Internet helps them with schoolwork, and 71 percent
of online teens say that they used the Internet as the major source
for their most recent school project or report."
Of course, that was when they weren't chatting online using AOL's
Instant Messenger software. Almost 13 million American teenagers
used some kind of instant message service as the new way to "hang
out." Overall, about 130 million people used the new software so
much that people referred to the current era of the Internet as "the
instant message generation."
The Internet's role as a tool for communication was even more
obvious in Europe, where an Internet-like system offered on cell
phones called the Short Message Service (SMS) was responsible for
almost 30 billion messages in Europe alone.
Next year, European and Asian cell phone providers hope to be
able to offer even more services over cell phones, including
streaming video (trials are already underway in South Korea).
Globally, 950 million people currently use wireless phones, with
that number reaching 1 billion by the summer of 2002.
People also used the Internet for more mundane tasks, often ones
that meant they wouldn't have to stand in lines. Almost 50 percent
of America's community banks now allow their customers to view their
balances online, according to a 2001 survey by The Independent
Community Bankers of America, with 39 percent of them allowing
people to use the Net to pay bills. The other 50 percent say that
moving in this direction is their top technology priority in the
next 12 months.
And even if the overall retail market was down this Christmas,
online shopping was way up. According to Neilsen NetRatings, online
consumer spending in the US went up 91 percent from November. More
important for online retailers, 45 percent of those surveyed said
they were very satisfied with their experience, up more than 20
percent from last year.
One of the most interesting books written this year about the
Internet and its future was Michael Lewis's "Next: The Future Just
Happened" (reviewed July 19). One theme of the book is that
technology acts as the "great leveler," often taking power away from
the elites and giving it to the masses. A very important example of
this happened late in 2001 when a New York Supreme Court Judge ruled
in a libel case that online journalists have the same "heightened"
First Amendment rights that protect big media outlets like The New
York Times or CBS. …