What is the Internet evolving into?
Aug. 12, 2013
by Mark Ollig

We know the Internet consists of physical hardware like routers, data servers, computers, and cabling.

And of course, this hardware is interconnected and communicates with each other using the programs contained within the software code stored inside databases.

Actually, it’s incredible how it all works, when one stops to think about it.

And, has it really been 20 years since we started surfing the Web using a Mosaic browser?

We’re regularly using the Internet for email, work, accessing websites, blogging, participating in chat room discussions, and interacting within our social networks.

The Internet also allows us a virtual presence to see and hear the activity occurring in just about any place in the world, via the real-time cameras connected to it.

Some days I feel we are becoming “embedded” inside the Internet.

The Internet now provides everyone with access to practically the sum total of human knowledge from almost anywhere on the planet.

In 1910, providing global access to all human knowledge was the dream of Paul Otlet.

Otlet had diligently labored on creating a depository for all of the world’s information. The staggering amount of paper documentation collected was archived in his “Mundaneum.”

He came to understand the ultimate answer for creating true global accessibility to this depository of knowledge and information would require replacing paper documentation with some other viewable storage medium, along with a method to easily access it from anywhere in the world.

Years ago, before the Web became popular on the Internet, I started a local online dial-up Computerized Bulletin Board System (CBBS).

A local BBS was a “virtual community,” a term cyberspace writer Howard Rheingold coined.

The early 1990s was an exciting and promising time as we looked to the future, and wondered; what could be accomplished using computers within an online virtual community?

Today, most BBS traffic has moved onto the ever-expanding Internet; its tentacles are reaching into almost every facet of our daily lives and it shows no sign of slowing down.

“This thing is still evolving,” you will recall Vinton Cerf saying about the Internet in last week’s column.

The question I am asking: “What is the Internet evolving into?”

For one thing, the Internet has become the gathering place for people to engage in social dialogue and chat regarding local, state, national and world issues, along with politics, current events, and breaking news stories. Personal issues also receive a lot of discussion.

I do find it frustrating and even a bit disheartening, that on many US news websites and chat rooms, instead of constructive discussions regarding an issue, many user comments end up becoming vehement personal or political attacks directed towards those expressing an opinion, or making a statement.

We have a name for these unruly online folks: “trolls.”

According to the Urban Dictionary, a troll is: “One who posts a deliberately provocative message to a newsgroup or message board with the intention of causing maximum disruption and argument.”

However, on a positive note, yours truly notices when reading the local citizen comments made on various foreign websites (such as the BBC), the remarks addressing a story rarely contain personal or political attacks directed against the individuals expressing their opinions.

Instead, these online users engage in a healthy, constructive, and respectful discussion with one another – which I, for one, find very refreshing, and hope will be seen in more online chats.

“We are rapidly evolving a global, immersive, invisible, ambient, computing environment with a proliferation of sensors, cameras, software and databases,” says Imagining the Internet Center, based at Elon University, in Elon, NC.

Janna Quitney Anderson, Director of Imagining the Internet Center, raises a multitude of concerns regarding the future of the Internet, including: free expression, piracy, security, trust, economic development, human relationships, and how human rights will evolve.

According to Anderson, we need to be asking and answering questions in order to develop how our future with the Internet will be.

As for my thoughts, the Internet must remain a free and equally accessible venue where everyone has an opportunity to openly express their thoughts and opinions.

The Internet needs to continue to grow as a global virtual community, where all of us can contribute to it, whether by participating in citizen journalism, discussing local community issues in chat rooms, starting our own personal website or blog, uploading life event videos, or recording political or personal podcast’s.

The Internet needs to freely evolve into a place where everyone can engage in a mutually beneficial and respectful exchange of dialogue and ideas with the people within their own local community, and with those around the world.

The Internet has evolved into an essential resource for fostering society’s continued learning, the sharing of knowledge, and for getting our news.

We are using the Internet more for civic involvement in our local, state, and federal government.

It also continues to evolve as a venue for the growth of global entrepreneurial business and commerce.

And of course, we can look for the Internet to grow as a place for experiencing the enjoyment of its entertainment offerings.

The Imagining the Internet Center can be reached using http://tinyurl.com/eloninternet.

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