Is The Internet A Global Phenomenon Essay

Is The Internet A Global Phenomenon? Essay, Research Paper Is the Internet really a Global phenomenon? Since the beginning of time, mankind has been involved in a never-ending quest to learn more about the world in which he lives. Our natural curiosity leads us to question everything and investigate the way in which the world around us works.

Is The Internet A Global Phenomenon? Essay, Research Paper

Is the Internet really a Global phenomenon?

Since the beginning of time, mankind has been involved in a never-ending quest to learn more about the world in which he lives. Our natural curiosity leads us to question everything and investigate the way in which the world around us works. Human beings also have a natural tendency to want to explore and see things in the world around them which they have never seen before. It is in that sense that the Internet is a perfect extension of human nature. It is a medium which transcends boundaries and makes the world a smaller place – much as the media of printing, radio and television did before it. But is there anything really left to explore? The very problem with having the vast expanse of the knowledge that is the Internet before us, is that even before we experience something first hand, we have already passively experienced it one way or another. For instance, we can marvel at the majesty of the Grand Canyon but we can never look upon as the people of a century ago did. They would have had no idea of what to expect, but our sense of surprise is muted by what we have already seen in pictures and videos.

Nevertheless, the Internet remains a source of great knowledge and possibility, affecting all facets of the wired citizen’s life. Consider the example of the US, who have the greatest proportion of net users in the world:

-Business: The Web is impacting business from the top down. Roughly 92% of CEOs, CFOs and CIOs around the world had Net access in 1998, according to Andersen Consulting. And in Growing up Digital, Don Tapscott believes when the new generation of Internet-using kids enters the workforce, corporations and employers will be forced to become more open, less hierarchical and more collaborative.

-Religion: One New York Bishop put it this way: “If Jesus were walking the earth today I’m convinced He would have an email address.” The American Bible Society uses the Web to deliver content found in the Bible. Dozens of Catholic churches use Web sites to garner new recruits.

-Politics: The majority of the USA’s top lawmakers receive a daily email tally of how many of their constituents favour or oppose a specific issue. And President Clinton received millions of emails while he was in office.

-Careers: About 10% of jobs are filled through the Internet in the U.S., according to Terri Bonar-Stewart, CEO of a Cincinnati-based consulting company. This summer 82% of college grads will search for careers and employment information online, according to SBC Internet Services; 66% will email their resumes to prospective to employers; 55% will post their resumes online.

-Language: The latest edition of the New Oxford Dictionary of English includes definitions for Web slang including “snail mail,” “applet,” “geek,” “digerati” and “mouse potato.”

-Leisure: Researchers at the Yankee Group and elsewhere have found TV viewing decreases in households with Internet access.

But is the internet really the great leveller that everyone is talking about? Annette Hamilton of the ZdNet Anchordesk website has described the internet as:

“a wondrous, global phenomenon that is erasing borders and flattening economic barriers. Just listen to BlackWeb’s Frank Coburn, who attests, “The Internet has leveled the playing field for everyone. Race and gender have become irrelevant and we can now obtain the same information and speak to the same people as anyone else.”

Is this really the case? At the moment sadly no. Yes, the internet does allow almost anyone to voice their point of view but with the exception that they must own a computer and speak English. Again the example of the United States provides the evidence:

-Two-thirds of all Internet users reside in North America: The increase of cheap computers and unmetered free local calls contributed greatly to the internet boom there in the mid 90’s. This allowed citizens almost 24/7 internet access and indeed some households had second phone lines installed into their homes solely for internet access

-Roughly two-thirds of all Internet servers reside in the U.S. The Internet influencers, Web publishers, are concentrated in America.

-Four out of five Web pages are in English — the unofficial language of the Net.

All of these factors have contributed to the westernization of the Net. The downfall to this is that the small proportion of the world’s English speakers who control the net have forced the rest of the world to confirm to their standard. Compounded with the fact that computing is an expensive business requiring relatively pricey equipment and phone service, is it now really feasible that a poor hungry child in Africa can see the “great leveller” that is the internet, let alone understand it?

The Internet divide between the haves and have-nots is even visible in the United States itself. While the use of Internet in schools has grown exponentially in the last few years, College Board (the board which presides over America’s all important SAT’s) Online researchers warn the trend has had a negative effect on disadvantaged children. They report that lack of Net access at home may cause kids to fall behind at school, exacerbating the gap between the rich and poor (Source: Zdnet.com/anchordesk).

On top of all of this, the computer itself is a very westernised object. With it’s alphanumeric keyboard and it’s anglicised web browsers, it is not a very welcoming sight to those non-English speakers in disadvantaged countries. Granted, special keyboards and software are available, but are few and far between. Learning English is still the only way to go. Many say that the ‘great leveller’ will promoted increased globalisation but I think that is only because it is turning everyone the same by forcing to conform to its standards.

This cannot go on forever though. The US will fast become a minority in terms of users online. In fact, The rest of the world will pass the U.S. in Web users later this year. So most of the world’s netizens will be from outside the US and yet only one in five web pages will be in a language other than English. The rest of the world actually won’t pass the U.S. in Web servers for several more years, which indicates the culture and content of the Net will be dominated by the U.S. for years to come. The next five countries projected to come online in force will be Japan, Taiwan, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom. With the exception of the last two, they are non-English speaking nations. But I don’t expect a sudden increase in the number of foreign pages. All of those nations have felt the brunt of Americanisation. For Japan, almost every website you visit will have an English translation. Japanese school kids now have to learn four alphabets! Katakana – the more traditional calligraphic style, kanji and hiragana – the more everyday colloquial ‘alphabets’ and ironically Romanji, which is basically learning to use the western alphabet to phonetically spell out Japanese words. Even without knowing English, most Japanese will at least be able to sound out our alphabet. The stampede of Americanisation is not helped by the fact that it is considered ‘cool’ to emulate America in Japan. Corporate American identities from Coca-Cola to Disney to Macdonald’s to Nike have ensured that the US maintains her influence. This real world branding has also transferred itself into the digital domain. Wherever the real world leads, the virtual is soon to follow. Net consumers are much more likely to trust a flashy, well-designed site from an established bricks and mortar and probably American company, than some poorly constructed homepage from Kazakhstan!

So the Internet does have extremely great potential and I hope that it will eventually become the ‘great leveller’ that it has been promised to become. It truly is a medium that has the potential to let anybody voice their views and make themselves heard – unfortunately only if the speak English. The only way we will reach the technological utopia promised by the internet is if more money and resources are spent on improving net access and computing literacy for the poor. The actual ways in which the web is viewed and navigated need to also be rethinked to facilitate access. Most of all, countries other than America need to put more into their internet infrastructures and give their netizens the firepower to compete with the US on an even playing field. It is not until other countries have caught up to the US that web content will shift and only then will the ‘great leveller’ live up to that name.