During a recent interview with Vanity Fair, the creator of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee, expressed his disappointment in many of its aspects, and his hopes for it what instead might become.
In the early days of the internet the realm held such promise, such potential for greatness, he recalled. While, by his own admission, some of this potential has indeed been reached, he still spoke out against some of the components which have and do annoy and frustrate him to this day.
The business.com address sold in 1999 for $7.5 million.
One such example he gave relates to the modern DNS or Domain Name Service. This essentially relates to the address and name websites use and how they are registered and resolved. Previously, all it took was a simple application for an individual or company to acquire an official .com address. Since then, Berners-Lee remarked, there has been an explosive trend of individuals buying up as many names as they can, hoping to later sell them to businesses at huge profits.
This, he explained, is a break from the spirit of his vision of the internet.
Following this, he then went on to draw attention to the various online political elements and their means of manipulation, which have been opened up by the internet.
Hacking and misinformation campaigns have been a considerable concern of his on this front, as have the secret psychological experiments conducted by the likes of Facebook. For those that might have forgotten, a study in 2012 showed that Facebook had intentionally manipulated the news feed of nearly 700,000 people, and recent news has shown that they haven’t seemed to have learned from that mistake.
Despite these and the many other issues he raised with the current environment, however, Berners-Lee still sees hope in terms of the happiness and growth possibilities that the world wide web has created.
Entertainment, Gaming, Happiness, Stress-Relief, and Fun
For many, the internet has been a way to get away from the stresses of life and unwind, and gaming is often the means by which this goal is accomplished.
MMORPGs like World of Warcraft bring millions of players from all over the globe together.
Entertainment and gaming are hardly new, but the opportunities as created by the internet break barriers on levels which have never before been possible. Media streaming via services like YouTube, Netflix, Spotify, and Hulu, for example, allows us an entirely new level of convenience.
Combine these with increased avenues of connectivity as afforded by wireless and mobile devices, and it’s little wonder our appetites have become easier to satiate than ever.
The same can be said for gaming, which offers both opportunities and community play faster and easier than ever before. Most visibly, this has taken the form of online gaming systems like Steam, Xbox Live, and PSN, but technological developments have pushed much further than just these forms of larger communities. Online casinos, for example, have recently been making strides into adopting mixed reality live casino games. These allow players to enjoy classic experiences like roulette and blackjack at home on their computers or mobile devices, all while being connected to human dealers, streaming in real time.
As social creatures in a difficult and busy world, it can become difficult to share these communal experiences in the traditional manner. In this way, advancements such as those made possible by the internet have added a significant level of quality to many of our lives. In this manner, at least, Berners-Lee has not been disappointed.
Education: Professional and Amateur
One of the biggest threats that we have seen find significant traction in recent years is that of fake news. Burners-Lee has spoken about his disappointment on this front, especially given the term’s adopted usage by some of the most notoriously dishonest people the world has ever known.
What raises his hopes, however, is the work that many websites and professional academic associations have performed in raising the potential for both national and international news and education.
Fact-checking is now easier than ever thanks to the scope of online records, meaning that keeping track of falsehoods in real time is now incredibly simple, making it much more difficult to peddle dishonesty to those with an interest in critical thinking.
Gaining a real education over the internet is now a valid path for millions.
While still growing in many ways, the benefits to education are also nothing short of revolutionary. Access to proper education is often limited by financial and proximal issues, both of which can be significantly addressed by online infrastructure. Mobile connectivity to the internet, even in the third world, has grown significantly in recent years.
On a still-increasing trend, and with the constant lowering of connectivity costs, access to education here is one of the most important factors. In fact, about 2 billion current internet users are from developing countries, including around 89 million from the least developed countries.
This also pays off for professional online distance college education. With the likes of extramural study courses receiving more funding and attention (up to almost 50% enrolment in some areas) than ever before, the opportunities for students outside of the direct college areas only grow stronger.
Combating Growing Pains
While it has taken a long while, we are finally starting to see some progress with the web similar to what Berners-Lee had envisioned all along. The internet is no longer the wild west, and increasingly limits and warnings are being placed on dishonest and harmful behavior like anti-vaccination and politically dishonest propaganda.
As what is now a fundamental component of our lives, we can finally have real hope that the opportunities for entertainment, news, and education will only strengthen. As Berners-Lee says, we have the potential, and now is the time to act on it.