The Maitland Mercury

A look back at how the internet has changed everyday life

Forty years ago the internet made its way into our homes, and into our lives. Picture Shutterstock
Forty years ago the internet made its way into our homes, and into our lives. Picture Shutterstock

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It hasn't been a long time since the internet entered our home. To talk about the days before the internet can feel like casting your mind back to an ancient, medieval village. In truth, it was only 40 years ago, in 1994, when the World Wide Web made its way into our homes, and soon into our very lives.

The internet changed everything. People no longer had to go to the library to look for a specific book, and then skim for ages to find the right information. They just simply went to Google and boom! Exactly what they need. As time went on the nature of the internet changed the very structure of society, as social media and content creation came onto the scene.

Even studying changed, with high-end qualifications like a Master of Business Administration online being offered so students could study remotely.

Today we're asking ourselves how much has changed in forty years. How far have we come? And how did we get here?

Before the Internet

Before the internet hit residential homes, things were very different. Computers were used as electric typewriters, with other programs for art, animation, music creation, and more. However the main difference between then and now was how we exchanged information.

Pre-internet there was (obviously) no such thing as cloud computing. You couldn't generate a link to a document and then have someone else be able to access that document through a link. You had to give them either a print-out of the document, give them a copy of the actual file on a USB stick, or pre-1999 a floppy disk.

Additionally, research was a lot more intensive process as well. If you had any assessments or projects, you had to go to a library, find the right book, and then spend hours skimming and flicking through that book looking for the correct bit of information. When you did find the correct information, you would then note it down and make sure to get the page number and the full reference for when you were done.

Pre-internet communications were more inefficient as well, as people relied on so-called "snail mail" to get important information from one place to another. Sometimes important mail would have arrived after the date the sender needed your response, which caused no shortage of headaches.

It can sound petty to talk about these things like they were a big deal, and maybe they weren't. But if one thing went wrong it made a lot of trouble. A USB was misplaced, a copy of a file was corrupted, or the book you got your info from was out of date, it could ruin a lot in a concise amount of time. Aside from the fact that these non-streamlined work methods added hours to any task.

Then in 1993...

Well, quite a while before 1993. The internet can trace its most recent form to the late 1960's with ARPANET. Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) established the first computer communication network. The very first message between these two computers, "LOGIN" crashed the network, with the receiving computer only receiving "LO."

It was a start, however, and companies and scientists continued to develop the technology, until in 1990 the computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, the access protocol that people use to access the internet. The World Wide Web was made publicly available in 1993, and the world was never quite the same.

A Cyberspace

First coined in 1984 in science fiction author William-Gibson's Sprawl Trilogy, "cyberspace" was used to define a global information network, where people could log on, communicate, exchange information, and conduct business all over the world. In other words, a science fiction author essentially predicted the internet on a typewriter.

The internet is exactly what "cyberspace" was in The Sprawl, a network of globally shared computers, all interacting with each other all the time, extracting and exchanging information, sending finances, communicating, sharing files, data, reports, news, conducting trade, and even illegal operations. This changed the world as much as you think it would.

The fledgling WWW was predominantly used to send emails and do school research. Never before had there been such a fast means of communication other than telephone. Research had always been challenging, now we could simply use a search engine to just find whatever we wanted. Then eCommerce came with websites like eBay, and Amazon, which back then was just a book store!

However, the internet of today is very different to the internet of the 90's. Now, the internet is the standard for nearly all forms of sociality, as social networks like Facebook, Discord, and Zoom proliferate and become the hub of pop culture, news, and global affairs. The internet of the 90s was relegated to our home computers, now we carry it everywhere with us in our pockets.

Although many criticise the modern age's internet use with half-baked terms like "chronically online" the internet brings far more good than harm. The freedom of information, the ability to study online, the accessibility to shopping, communication, and sociality for people who may have trouble leaving the house, not to mention the tremendous strides in remote and hybrid work, are all thanks to the widespread nature of the internet. The things the internet allows us to do and the way it has streamlined our lives more than make up for the ills of the internet.

The digital age

As we head into a new era of technology, the same thing is clear now as it was 40 years ago - the internet is here to stay. Initially, it was like any unchartered territory, no one knew how to navigate it. But we kept at it, we innovated, experienced, and learned. As AI looms on the horizon of the future, we must have faith that we can do it again, and that just like the internet of old, the mistakes of the present lead to the innovations of the future; so ultimately more benefit than harm will be drawn from it.