It’s hard to believe that its only just over 25 years since Tim Berners- Lee came up with the idea that would eventually become the Internet- an idea which has revolutionised much of our lives, and changed the way that we do many things.
It’s also introduced us to a whole new vocabulary: just a few years ago we’d never heard of things like email, blogs, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, Skype, YouTube, Google+, Pinterest, selfies or BitCoin. Many of these are now part of our everyday language, and we use these and other tools to create whole communities with people who we've never spoken to outside of the Web. The Web means that shopping isn't about going down to the shops any more. It’s about going online. Bricks and mortar is where we try on shoes or measure the television to see if it fits in the living room. The Web is where we actually buy them.
Some people have compared the advent of the Web to the development of the printing press, in that it has given many people access to the means of broadcasting their ideas. In many ways, however, the Web is even more powerful than Guttenberg’s printing press, as printing presses were big, expensive machines, and not everybody had the skill to operate them. At least in theory, essentially anybody can have access to the internet- although even in our own communities there’s an increasing recognition of the existence of a “digital divide”, with the poorest in effect often being excluded from participation in the benefits that the internet brings.
The Web has clearly brought us all kinds of benefits- but, as with many technologies, there are inevitable down sides. Questions around privacy and the ability of government to access your online life; issues such as pornography, cyber stalking, bullying, and identity theft. The sheer time wasting as your life vanishes in a parade of flappy birds, Miley Cyrus video clips, and pages comparing Benedict Cumberbatch to an otter. Even Berners-Lee says he never foresaw kittens.
But the most sobering thing about the Web is that its impact is still playing out and will be for years to come. Today, only 25 percent of the world’s population have access to it, how it will evolve and who will control it is still under debate, and the next phase of its technology is still under development.
Where the Web was once a distinct thing that you went to and read, then something that you interacted with, now it’s becoming a pervasive entity that’s moving out of our computers and our phones and into our cars, our televisions, and (for some unfathomable reason) our fridges. The question is, what will it look like in the next 25 years, and will it still be something we can just switch off and go for a walk in the woods instead.