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How the Internet Has Changed Life sample essay

Our lives have changed beyond recognition since the Internet was launched in the year 1989. In a short space of 18 years people are already beginning to wonder how they would ever have coped without it. We use the it to send e-mail, pay out utility bills, reserve tickets for flights or theatre, update our bank accounts, apply for loans and mortgages, purchase stock market shares, browse and purchase items from Internet stores, and of course to check up on every kind of day to day information, e. g. news, weather and financial market indexes. Previously all these tasks entailed time-consuming and laborious physical procedures.

For example, finding time on a weekday to visit the bank was irksome and clashed with our 9-5 routine. We used the ‘snail-mail’ for our post, and queued up hours to get tickets to theatres or sports events. We couldn’t even think of getting a bank loan, or a mortgage, without a stern appointment with our bank manager, and most of our shopping was necessarily a chore. Many are opting to ‘telecommute’ as well, which means that they work from home with the PC connected to the office intranet, so they are able to avoid the horror of commuting to and from work daily.

The Internet is now the primary means to secure a job. Students secure admissions to college and university online. After having got in they continue to depend on the Internet to collect course notes and other study materials, and even submit completed papers to their instructors. This is not to mention that the Internet is the greatest possible source of scholarly information. Not only is the university library at the student’s fingertips, but the Internet itself is the most comprehensive library imaginable.

Even romance is not exempt from the digital domain. Through online dating agencies many people meet their future life partners and spouses on the Net. Not only work, the Internet has also become our station for play. ‘Browsing the Net’ has become our favorite pastime, and indeed an addiction for many. We frequent websites based on our favorite sports personalities and movie stars. ‘Web chatting’ is also a hugely popular pastime on the Internet, where live conversations and discussions are carried out on specially designed thematic forums.

With the advent of ‘file sharing’ we are swapping and sharing music and videos over the Net based on fan clubs and interest groups. By a recent estimate (Lipsman 2008) 694 million people worldwide use the Internet on a regular basis. This is a measure of how far it has infiltrated and changed our lives. Paradoxically, the Internet was devised by the military and was originally meant for the most secretive information. It is now the very by-word for openness. Of course, as with every technology, there are attendant evils. Along with authentic and reliable information, there is a flood of vindictive and motivated propaganda.

Just as scholars are able to meet on the net to advance knowledge, so do terrorists come together with their evil designs. Healthy entertainment is overwhelmed by the perverse form of it. In a recent study (Flichy 2007) it has been estimated that a quarter of all the websites are pornographic. The revered institution of copyright is being ravaged more and more everyday, where copyrighted material is being made freely available by unscrupulous parties, to the detriment of artists and inventors everywhere. The music industry is losing everyday its battle against the Internet piracy of music.

Hackers also pose another looming menace. Not everything fed into the Internet is meant to be available to everyone. Much of it is personal or corporate information that is for restricted use. Hackers try to break into databases containing such information, purely for disruptive purposes. All the problems mentioned above derive from the characteristically open nature of the Internet. When it is abused it is open to evil, even to the same extent that it is a cause for good. In this last respect the Internet is affecting the most fundamental change to our society.

It is the incursions into privacy, private property and decency that pose the gravest dangers, and therefore threatens to change our society in fundamental ways. All these dangers were apparent in the very early days of the Internet. Writing in the Encarta Yearbook of 1996 Gary Chapman says: This revolutionary information network ignores geographic and governmental barriers, undermines obscenity and pornography laws and restrictions, has the potential to invade individual privacy in numerous ways, and threatens to divide society between the information haves and have-nots.

The government was quick to react to such alarm. In the same year Congress passed the CDA (Communications Decency Act) with the aim of cleansing the Internet of all forms of pornography. But is quickly became apparent to all parties that such a law was non-enforceable. As in all obscenity trials throughout the history of the country, the borders of obscenity could never be agreed upon. Any effort in this direction soon found itself in direct opposition to the First Amendment of the Constitution, that which protects free speech and opinion.

Consequently, the following year the Supreme Court annulled the Congressional ruling as unconstitutional, and Justice John Paul Stevens (1997), in his summary of the Court’s opinion, identified the problem starkly: Notwithstanding the legitimacy and importance of the Congressional goal of protecting children from harmful materials, we agree with the three-judge District Court that the statute abridges “the freedom of speech” protected by the First Amendment. The Internet being the embodiment of free speech, it proved impossible to curtail it in any way.

In more recent times Professor Lawrence Lessig of the University of Chicago has pointed to a deeper link between the Internet and the American psyche. Freedom of speech, he avers, is the fundamental tenet of American culture, and any encroachment on this principle threatens the nation as a whole. He opposes the new laws passed by Congress more recently that are aimed at stemming piracy: “What the law demands today is increasingly silly as a sheriff arresting an airplane for trespass. But the consequences of this silliness will be much more profound” (Lessig, 2004, p. 12).

Lessig’s argument is that censorship has never been effectively carried out on American soil, and it is exactly this which has imbued character to the nation and has made it great. All the greatest accomplishment in art and science were result of free speech, he maintains. In his book Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture he goes on to show how Walt Disney was in effect the master pirate. He burst into the limelight in the year 1928 with the short animation “Steamboat Bill”, featuring the character of Mickey Mouse is a previous personification as Willie.

Not only did this steal the name from Buster Keaton’s 1928 classic Steamboat Bill Jr but the plot and humor it as well. Lessig builds on this document by showing that each and every one of Disney’s sumptuous productions were concocted from material of various talent, none of whom are acknowledged. The special stamp of Disney came from the process of the mix, and even more so from the process of burn, by which his creation enters culture and becomes an integral part of the American psyche. “Rip, mix and burn,” he says is the formula behind America’s entrepreneurial success.

It personified the American way to creativity, which must necessarily flourish in an environment of free speech: These values built a tradition that, for at least the first 180 years of our Republic, guaranteed creators the right to build freely upon their past, and protected creators and innovators from either state or private control. … Our tradition was neither Soviet nor the tradition of patrons. It instead carved out a wide berth within which creators could cultivate and extend our culture. (Ibid, p. 10)

Any form of censorship is to create a nobility of information, where only the privileged have access, and this is fundamentally un-American. “But it is nobility of any form that is alien to our culture” (Ibid, p. 11). Lessig avers hope for the Internet, even though he is unable to offer concrete examples of creativity emerging from the tumultuous mix that is the Internet. He reasons from history, tradition and the American ideal. At the heart of this ideal is “free speech”, and the Internet is the ultimate embodiment of it.

It the experience of many that the Internet is a force for good, despite the endless avenues for corruption that it leaves open. The general verdict is that the good outweighs the evil, which is in line with the optimism expressed by Lessig.

References

Chapman, G. (1996). “The Internet: Promise and Peril in Cyberspace. ” Encarta Yearbook, May 1996. New York: Microsoft Corporation. Flichy, P. (2007). The Internet Imaginaire. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Lessig, L. (2004). Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture. New York: Penguin Publishers.

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