The Internet has an enormous impact on the American Experience. First, It encourages the growth of businesses by providing new ways of advertising products to a large audience, and thus helps companies to publicize their products. Secondly, It allows more Americans to find out what goes on in other countries by learning about other cultures and by exchanging their opinions and ideas with other people worldwide. This may well promote a better global understanding. Finally, by allowing people to access vast amounts of information easily, it will change how they make decisions and ultimately also their lifestyle.
The Internet is a high-speed worldwide computer network which evolved from the Arpanet. The Arpanet was created by the Pentagon in the late 1969 as a network for academic and defense researchers. In 1983, the National Science Foundation took over the management of the Internet. Now the Internet is growing faster than any other telecommunications system ever built. It is estimated that in three years, the system will be used by over 100 million people (Cooke 61).
Since the World Wide Web (WWW or W3) became popular through point-and-click programs that made it easier for non-technical people to use the Internet, over 21,000 businesses and corporations have become accessible through the Internet (Baig 81). These companies range from corporate giants like IBM, AT&T, Ford and J.C. Penny, to small law firms. "With the Internet, the whole globe is one marketplace and the Internet's information-rich WWW pages can help companies reach new customers," says Bill Washburn, former executive director of Commercial Internet Exchange (Baig 81).
Through the Internet, new opportunities to save money are created for companies. One of the bigger savings is the cost of transmission. It is estimated that the administrative cost of trade between companies in the U.S. amounts to $250 billion a year (Liosa 160). Sending an ordinary one-page e-mail message from New York to California via the Internet costs about a penny and a half, vs. 32 cents for a letter and $2 for a fax (Liosa 158).
Hale & Dorr for example, a Boston based law firm, uses the Internet to its advantage. If a client company requests a contract for a foreign distributor, it can send electronic mail over the Internet to a Hale & Dorr computer, where a draft document will be constructed from the text. A lawyer will then review the documents and ship them back over the Internet to the client, including a list of lawyers in the other country (Verity 81).
The ability to process orders quickly has always been an important factor in the business world, especially for mail-order companies. Traditional methods however tended to be fairly expensive. On the average it has cost mail-order companies from $10 to $15 to process a telephone or mail order, says Rodney Joffe, president of American Computer Group Inc. Over the Internet, this cost falls to $4, and it is much faster this way, too (Verity 84).
Advertising on the Internet is another way to endorse products. Hyatt Hotels Corporation for instance advertises its hotels and resorts, and it even offers a discount for people who say they 'saw it on the net (Verity 81).'
Hundreds of computer software companies now have their own Internet sites on the World Wide Web, where customers can get immediate support directly from the experts or buy and register new software online. Even magazine publishers are joining the Internet to regularly publish special Internet versions of their magazines which are read by millions of people worldwide.
The Internet attracts so many companies because they can use it as a tool for communication, marketing, advertising, sales, and customer support. It is not only faster and more efficient than using traditional methods, but it is also cheaper.
The Internet doesn't just promote growth of businesses, it also creates new ways for Americans to get in touch with the rest of the world. It lets people expand their horizons and learn about different countries and cultures by getting insight into others people's lives across the globe. One of the many ways in which this can be done is to use Internet Relay Chat (IRC). IRC is a multi-user chat system, where people worldwide can convene on "channels" (a virtual place, usually with a topic of conversation) to talk in groups, or privately. When people talk on IRC, everything they type will instantly be transmitted around the world to other users who are connected at the time. They can then type something and respond to each other's messages.
Since starting in Finland, IRC has been used in over seventy-five countries spanning the globe. IRC is networked over much of North America, Europe, and Asia (Eddings 57). Topics of discussion on IRC are varied. Technical and political discussions are popular, especially when world events are in progress. Not all conversations need to have a topic however. Some people simply talk about their daily lives and experiences which they can share with thousands of other people. Most conversations are in English, but there are always channels in German, Japanese, and Finnish, and occasionally other languages. On the average, there are between five and six thousand people from many countries and cultures online at once.
In times when information from abroad is hard to acquire, it becomes clear how essential the Internet can be to global understanding. IRC gained international fame during the late Persian Gulf War, where updates from around the world came across the wire, and most people on IRC gathered on a single channel to hear these reports. Even during the coup attempt in Russia, people were providing live reports on the Internet about what was really going on (Eddings 48). These reports were widely circulated throughout the world over the Internet.
One startling instance that shows the importance of international communication through the Internet, is taking place in Croatia. Halfway around the world, Wam Kat regularly types articles on the political situation and daily life in Zagreb, Croatia on his computer. Kat's articles are not published in Yugoslav papers or magazines because the Croatian government owns all the media and already prosecuted a group of journalists for treason. Kat's articles exist in cyberspace only. He transfers them to a German Bulletin Board System via modem, from where they are spread to computers worldwide through the Internet. "Electronic mail is the only link between me and the outside world," says Kat (Cooke 60).
Kat is not the only one who participates in this community without boundaries. During recent coup attempts and catastrophes around the world, like the earthquake in Japan for example, the Internet provided and instant unfiltered link to the rest of the world. The Internet is changing the way people relate to one-another. It is re-sorting society into "virtual communities," as one author calls it (Cooke 61). Now groups of people from a variety of cultures, religions and countries can meet on the Internet, exchange ideas and learn from each other, instead of being bound by geographical location.
Although the Internet already has an enormous impact on Americans right now, it will influence us even more in the near future. In 1994, the Clinton administration requested a National Information Infrastructure, which would link every business, home, school and college (Cooke 64). That is why the Clinton administration has made the building of an improved data highway the main component of a determined plan to strengthen the U.S. economy in the 21st century (Silverstein 8). This improved national computer network will be called The Information Superhighway, which is nothing but an improved version of the Internet with a much greater capability for transmitting data. "The world is on the eve of a new era. The Information Superhighway will be crucial in creating long-term economic growth and maintaining U.S. leadership in basic science, mathematics and engineering," says Vice President Al Gore, the Clinton administration's leading high-tech advocate (Silverstein 9).
The Information Superhighway will make it possible to merge today's broadcasting, 500-channel cable TV, general video, telephone, and computer industries all into one giant computer network, because it will have a much greater capacity than today's Internet. This is made possible by replacing ordinary telephone wires with fiberoptic cable, which is made up of hair-thin strands of glass and can transmit 250,000 times as much data as a conventional telephone wire (Silverstein 9).
Through the Information Superhighway, our everyday living standards will be greatly improved. While the Internet primarily moves words, and is only able to broadcast images and sound at a very slow rate, the Information Superhighway will easily allow us to transmit sound and images quickly, making real-time video conferencing and actual spoken conversations on the computer possible for people worldwide. New technology like this will introduce even more practical and convenient applications.
"Virtual Medicine" for example could help save people's lives. If it is very difficult for a patient to get to a medical specialist, surgery could be performed over the Information Superhighway, through what is called Tele-presence Surgery. To be successful, It requires video, a fine motor control, a tactile, and physical feedback. The information can be digitized and transmitted over the Information Superhighway. The doctor will wear virtual reality goggles which contain small video screens that create a 3D-image of the patient. Sensors in the doctor's gloves, which will control robot-like hands on the other end, will detect the position of the doctors fingers (Eddings 156). Since this method of surgery is intended to work between two distant sites, it makes it possible for specialized doctors at major hospitals to operate at rural clinics.
The so-called Virtual Library, which will be established once the Information Superhighway is inaugurated, will greatly enhance the amount of information that can be accessed through computers. Already, people can search the Internet for databases of newspaper clippings, lists of government offices, supreme court rulings, and even get limited access to the Library of Congress through a system called MARVEL, which pulls together library catalogs from all over the world into one super catalog (Eddings 158). With the Information Superhighway, people will be able to retrieve even more massive amounts of information. In the future, Instead of going to the library and checking out books, people will simply turn on their home computer, log into another library mainframe computer, and be able to download large amounts of text, as they wish. Especially for institutions like schools and colleges, the Information Superhighway will have a great potential for the improvement of general education and the accessibility of important information.
The Internet is having a major influence on America. Its successor in the near future, the Information Superhighway will continue to do so for a long time as well. By creating new ways of publicizing products and helping businesses, the Internet has strengthened and reinforced the U.S. economy. It also promotes a better global understanding by allowing millions of Americans to communicate with other people on an international level because it provides a constant flow of instant, unbiased information for everyone at any time, anywhere. The ability to obtain information quickly and easily will become very essential in the future, now that America is entering the information age. The Information Superhighway, once built, promises a good start into the new era.
Eddings, Joshua. How the Internet Works. California: Ziff-Davis Press, 1994.
Cooke, Kevin. "The whole world is talking." Nation. July 12, 1993: 60-65.
Verity, John. "The Internet." Business Week. November 14, 1994: 80-88.
Silverstein, Ken. "Paving the Infoway." Scholastic Update. September 2, 1994: 8-10.
Liosa, Patty. "Boom time on the new frontier." Fortune. Autumn93, 1993: 153-161.
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