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 how we communicate, shop, socialize, and even conduct our politics. But for those 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 organizations 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 investing in medical literature and books.
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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 change without recirculating or re-purchasing. A prime example is news sites, which can show people news as it breaks without waiting until the paper rounds the next morning.
Many sites manage to 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 unpaid contributors to provide the site’s content.
Also, many specialist sites have forums that allow users to supply information, request it, and discuss it and provide a means for people to find out almost anything they need to. All of this contributor-based information is susceptible to inaccuracies, but by taking sensible precautions, the Internet can be the most invaluable resource.
Moreover, 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 you are looking for out of the billions currently on the World Wide Web.
2. Communicating & Socialising
Arguably, the most revolutionary communication channel that the Internet has opened up is email – people’s ability to send instant communications to others no matter where they are. Before the Internet and email arrived, 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 considerably from simple email. Peopleincreasingly useg the Internet to socializedailyy and keep in touch with friends and loved ones. Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow people to share and discuss all aspects of their lives with their friends (and the general public) – their favorite pictures, videos, music, games, and websites.
Social Media’ is a broad umbrella term for several different services and technologies, such as blogging (sharing your thoughts and opinions in short articles), instant messaging, sharing online content, and tweeting (small text updates on ideas and activities). The major advantage of these services is that many are free and accessible anytime, wherever you are in the world.
The concept of sharing is key to social networking. With the instantaneous nature of communications, the variety of media that can be shared, and the lack of geographical boundaries, the Internet can help build relationships that would have been impossible before. People can easily find and stay in touch with friends they may have lost touch with over the years and meet new people with similar interests they would never have otherwise met. Consequently, one area of the Internet that is booming is online dating, providing people the chance to find love beyond their location, workplace, or social circles.
Most communication in social networking ultimately occurs in writing or text. Therefore, social media,ums, and mobile phone texting have even changed how we use language, with many abbreviations and acronyms making their way into everyday ‘offline’ language.
Social media encourages building online communities that far exceed traditional communities’ reach in terms of geographical location and sheer numbers. As mentioned before, these communities can pool information and 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 how we communicate over the phone. Traditional phone networks and services are being challenged by what is known as VoIP (Voice over the Internet Protocol), which essentially transfers sound over the Internet in small digital packets of information instead of down standard phone lines. The big benefit for most of us isis that we can now speak to loved ones elsewhere in the world for far less expense than ever. We can often integrate other elements, such as instant messaging and face-to-face video conferencing, into our conversations.
3. Shopping and Money
The Internet has revolutionized how we all shop. Virtually every business that sells goods and services has an online presence, with most people providing the option to buy directly from their website. In addition to traditional shops, many new online shops have grown, such as Amazon, while sites like eBay allow you to buy and sell in auction conditions to get the best deal. Their availability is not restricted by physical location for most products, as they will usually be delivered to your door. Whatever you want to buy, the chances are that someone is looking to sell it online, and you can buy it without leaving your house.
With the saying in mind that “time is money,” the Internet is also allowing people the ability to manage their finances instantly. Although many people may be concerned about the security of transactions, online banking has revolutionized how businesses and individuals look after their money.
People can log on to view their accounts, move money, and communicate with their bank anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For many, this has brought them closer to their finances and made them more proactive in managing them. Also, both banking and, for example, utility websites offer the ability to pay bills online, reducing the effort required to settle them to just a few clicks.
These services are invaluable for those who are maybe less than mobile, are pressed for time, or cannot access traditional services due to their restrictive working hours.
For people more money-wise, the Internet is also an ideal medium to make and manage investments due to the instantaneous nature of the possible transactions. With the world’s stock markets and financial institutions heavily computer-based, investments can now be made at the click of a button.
The Internet is increasingly becoming the primary source of leisure media as millions of users access the games, music, books, and films they used to pop down to the shops for. Rather than owning physical CDs, DVDs, and books, websites provide digital media to download or stream (play directly from the Internet).
People can download music (with all its artwork) at the click of a button and keep it wherever they go on portable devices. Alternatively, you can stream some music for free (often subsidized by advertising) using Spotify and SoundCloud services. New on the horizon is the potential to store music in the ‘cloud’ (i.e., saved to computers run by organizations such as Google or Apple rather than your own) so that you can access it wherever you are and whichever device you use to play it.
More and more ‘video’ gaming is moving online with players’ ability to play against each other wherever they are in the world and communicate as they do. These services can stream games directly from the Internet or play them on individuals’ game consoles, communicating with each other to coordinate the gameplay. ForThis a key social tool, andfor many provide another example of the Internet’s power in building social communities.
The Internet has long been a prime source of video entertainment, with sites such as YouTube and Vimeo allowing people to share anything from homemade to big-budget movie trailers, exposing them to millions of viewers worldwide, with the greater adoption of broadband providing the chance for people to download or stream greater amounts of information, the Internet is also beginning to rival traditional TV with many TV providers, such as the BBC (iPlayer), ITV (ITV Player), and Channel 4 (4OD), running their online services where programs are available as and when the viewer wants to watch them. Furthermore, the Internet is also being used to download or stream films, with many traditional movie rental companies offering the service alongside their DVD rentals.
The Internet is a fundamental resource for any business. Virtually all organizations now have a website, from small start-ups to large multinationals. Web sites give companies a way of informing their existing and prospective clients of what they do/offer and how they can be contacted, and, as mentioned previously, they often allow customers to transact and communicate directly with them.
Wherever people go to communicate and socialize with each other, business is never far behind, and increasingly, social media technologies are being used in the workplace to improve communication and for companies to communicate directly with their customers and the marketplace. They can gauge opinions about their brand or organization and increase their brand awareness amongst prospective customers. Advertising in many of these service business models often provides the core funding that allows them to be free of charge to the consumer.
The changes in communication methods that the Internet has given rise to have been embraced within the workplace. Email is a cornerstone of most businesses’ practices, while many are now switching to VoIP for their telephony systems to reduce cost and integrate with other communication channels more effectively. The advent of cloud computing, where you can store your files online rather than on your PC, has given businesses a chance to work outside of the office – or switch from office to office more easily and for a lower cost – as their documents are available to them wherever they go.