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July 9, 2015 / bswitaba

The Internet Age

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Throughout human history, different periods have been captured by a defining theme: the dark age, the industrial age, the information age, and the list goes on. The twenty first century is no exception. With several significant events taking place, specialists have begun to speculate on the themes that are likely to shape the trajectory of history.

Evolution of the Internet
In the early days, the Internet was developed for military and academic purposes. With its opening up to the general public in 1989, it has expanded rapidly to over 2 billion users t become a commercial tool and a socio-technological extension of our lives.

The digital era and impact areas
Today, the Internet has become and continues to be much of a social phenomenon as it is a technological one. This tool seems to literally run our lives that its almost impossible to do without it.
One of the areas that the Internet has revolutionized is communication. Electronic mails (e-mails) have made it easier to send documents to any part of the world within seconds, rendering telegrams and even ordinary mails (letters) mostly obsolete. This has greatly increased the speed of communications manifold and reduced costs drastically.
More so, the Internet has strengthened an enabling media and information environment.
In medieval times, people had to wait for delayed tabloids to read unfolding news. In recent times, Social media has ultimately changed this. With everyone becoming a citizen journalist, when news breaks, Social media literally falls – in real time!

In the field of research, the Internet has come to be seen as a vast repository of information and the term ‘library’ is often used to describe it, for instance Alexandrian library of the twenty first century. This great resource is used by various projects that aim to create a comprehensive system of information and knowledge on particular issues for example databases. The library analogy is used in the context of the Google book project with the mission of digitalizing all printed books.

Education is the premise of social progress in every society. From an education perspective, the fast increasing demand in education and training means that traditional methods will not suffice to take some countries beyond Universal Primary education (UPE) into the wider Education for All (EFA) UN agenda, especially as it applies to gender equity, secondary education, young adults, indigenous peoples, those with disabilities and those living in rural areas.
The Internet has come to been seen as a tool to vastly open new learning possibilities. Open and distance learning have become a world meme with one being able to pursue courses with the Internet as a medium of delivery.
Research has it that by 2025, there will be 263 million students who will be eligible for higher education. In order to accommodate this demand, at least 4 universities of
30,000 students would need to open every week for the next 10 years-this is almost impossible.
Clearly, traditional avenues to quality education are not likely to meet this demand.
Some soft skills courses such as entrepreneurship and management will need to be conducted online to save universities from unnecessary congestion.
Commonwealth of Learning (COL) report indicates that there are about 60 Open Universities established around the world.
Effective learning will thus come from using ICTs to broaden educational opportunity and help students develop twenty first century skills.

ICT enabled learning will help students increase motivation and performance. An average student who will not use ICT enabled learning will be rated at 50th percentile as compared to one that uses ICT enabled learning who will be at 66th percentile. Further, teachers who will use ICT tools in their teaching will develop a more positive attitude towards their work and will be able to provide more personalized learning to their learners.
Out rightly, while the Internet is unlikely to replace traditional education, e-learning will provide the potential of learning, especially when constraints of time and space impede physical attendance in class. Anybody, can learn, anything, from anywhere, from the best on the planet, at their convenience – proof that the “world is flat”.

The other area that seems to greatly depend on the Internet is open governance and public participation.
The open government trend has spread across the world like a whirl wind with various governments using the Internet to promote effective service delivery, transparency, citizen participation in policy processes, and accountability to the electorate.
In Africa for instance, the World Bank has hailed Kenya, a pioneer of the Open data project initiative.
In South America, Brazil is synonymous with the Public Participatory Budgeting initiative, a model that is admired by many the world over. This model seeks to give citizens the power to decide which sectors should be given priority in budgetary allocations, as well as how much money should be allocated for each sector in their respective municipalities.

In the democratic space, various governments are trying out new approaches to enfranchise citizens through e-voting.
For the last two and a half decades, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in democratic processes has been broadly defined as “electronic democracy”, or simply “e-democracy”.
Finland, India and Brazil are the pioneers in this area. Other countries are however fast catching up with this rather efficient model.

Civil societies have not been left behind in using the Internet to advocate for Article 19 (Freedom of information act), as well as other human rights related issues.
Before the age of the Internet, guns and machetes were the famed revolution tools. Today, Twitter and Facebook have changed all that. The former played a pivotal role in the world famed “Arab Spring” in Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt coining the famous phrase “The revolution will be tweeted”. Facebook on the other hand has greatly improved networking by delinking our social and political realities from the geographically separated sovereign states. It has been said that if Facebook were a republic, it would be the second largest in the world after the people’s republic of China! A leap into the future shows that these Cloud and Big Data companies pose greater opportunities as well as challenges to Internet users. There is a huge potential for Cloud and Big Data including gains for consumers and world economies as a whole. Big Data is likely to be more accepted by consumers when it makes products less expensive or more suited to their use of the product. On the flip side, the ethical use of Big Data will be in question. The likelihood of it being used as a tool by “big brother” to survey on its citizens is enormous. Users will most definitely lose control of privacy of their data to nanny states.

From an economic angle, e-commerce has been one of the main engines that has been key over in promoting the growth of the Internet over the past decade. This practice has largely led to the production, distribution, marketing, sale and delivery of goods and services by electronic means.
Similarly, e-banking and virtual currencies such as bitcoin have emerged as global trends to reckon with. This has in turn send shivers in nation states, with economist David Saxton noting “digital cash is a threat to every government on this planet that wants to manage its own currency”. In their business publication “The future of money”, analysts Holland K and Cortese A (1995) believe that e-cash could transform the world’s financial life.

Professor W.E.B Dubois, the first African American to graduate with a doctorate degree once said “Without leisure, there can be no opportunity for thoughtful reflection”. Socially, the Internet has made a considerable impact on the social-cultural fabric of our modern society. From Internet Radios, Internet based Games and gambling, Internet TV, Movies, Videos, Puzzles, and Quizzes.

A leap into the future
The possibilities are infinite and could surpass what is currently being offered in terms of entertainment.
It will come as no surprise to the world if revelers start going to dance halls, movie theatres and or social events such as weddings online!
Basically, it will be difficult to point out an area in people’s lives that may not be affected by the Internet in one way or another in the days to come.
With 2.8 billion people and 25 billion devices already connected to the Internet, it is expected that by 2020 the figures of the latter will have doubled. It can therefore without a shadow of doubt be deduced that the century we are in is indeed that of the digital age. The Internet of Things (IoTs) as Internet governance experts prefer to call it can only but offer so much to the current digital generation. With new innovations unveiled daily, it is expected that this marvelous tool will continue unleashing new patterns, breaking down barriers, and carving new forms of creative opportunities to the global community.


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