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The Connected World

It is amusing, albeit a little scary to realize how fast the world is progressing. From smart phones to satellites orbiting Mars, human race has achieved enough to prove its worth at the top of the evolutionary ladder. Seeing the world as it is right now, we can say that the most important of these achievements is the invention of internet. Isn’t it absolutely awe inspiring how internet has so miraculously connected the whole world? About 42.4% of the world's population uses the Internet.

Consumer use of the Internet first became popular through dial-up Internet access in the 1990s. By the first decade of the 21st century, many consumers in developed nations used faster, broadband Internet access technologies. As of 2014, broadband was ubiquitous around the world, with a global average connection speed exceeding 4 Mbps. Broadband provides improved access to Internet services such as:

  • Faster World Wide Web browsing.

  • Faster downloading of documents, photographs, videos, and other large files.

  • Telephony, radio, television, and videoconferencing.

  • Virtual private networks and remote system administration.

  • Online gaming, especially massively multiplayer online role-playing games which are interaction-intensive.

Access to the Internet grew from an estimated 10 million people in 1993, to almost 40 million in 1995, to 670 million in 2002 and to 2.7 billion in 2013. There were roughly 0.6 billion fixed broadband subscribers and almost 1.2 billion mobile broadband subscribers in 2011. In developed countries people frequently use both fixed and mobile broadband networks. In developing countries mobile broadband is often the only access method available. Mobile internet has become the ultimate savior for us.

Everything you want to know is one touch away. Are you new to the city? Don’t know the local language? Well, don’t you worry as long as you’ve got a smart phone in your hand; Google translate has got your back. With GPS systems you shouldn’t be worried about getting lost either. Suddenly, a strange new place seems to be very familiar and safe. The popularity of very handy mobile internet has ultimately pushed the number of mobile users in India up to the second place with an estimated 1,017,968,757 number of mobiles being used by population of 1,295,291,543 people.

Be it economy, business, education, day to day life, or social life, internet has not left any sphere untouched. It has affected our lives to such an extent that even a day without it makes us feel like cavemen of the primitive era. It is really handy and has definitely shaped our lives for the better but that doesn’t mean we draw a blind towards its ill effects. Everything in this world works on balance, so it’s no surprise that the groundbreaking advantages of internet are equated by some pretty ubiquitous disadvantages. Let’s compare the pros of internet with the imminent cons.

Let’s talk about connectivity and social life first. It’s no exaggeration to say that facebook is now a synonym for social life. From your house maid to your watchman, pretty much everyone in today’s world, is an avid facebook user. From 4th graders taking baby steps towards the virtual world to 70 year olds finding a means to reconnect with their old pals in their retirement days, facebook and other social networking sites are becoming popular by every minute of every day. No matter where you are, as long as you have an access to internet you’re never alone. Not only has internet changed the concept of distance and connectivity but also has altered its unit from kilometers to mbps.

Distance is as good as a topic to be studied in physics. Social life of every internet using individual has been changed drastically. Gone are the days of fax, telex, post services, and even long distance phone calls. It’s the era of video chats/calls, emails, chatrooms, pdfs and vibercalls.

As much as internet has connected us, it has also limited our socialibility to the virtual world. It’s a paradox that we’re social and isolated at the very same moment. Another major setback of continuously being virtually social is the risk of privacy. No internet user or social media user has a private life anymore. From posting pictures of basically everything online to g-mapping your current location, everything is out in the open. The scary part being, one can never be too sure about the intentions of the person behind the screen accessing all this information about you. Sure there are some great relationships that have blossomed due to the courtesy of internet, but there are some very obscene incidents as well.

The fact that internet has made our lives easy is pretty evident. Apart from social connectivity, internet has also laid down the path of distance learning. It is nothing short of a breakthrough in the educational world. While there are millions of people gaining education from colleges and universities, there are a few thousands for whom education is an option between work and other issues. Distance learning is a god sent alternative to such people. It has enabled the masses to get their education along with their jobs or other commitments, changing the status of education from being an option to being a choice. Organizations of all types, from public schools to corporations, are opting to train and inform via the web. One of the exciting things about this market is how it allows individuals to create a business out of their expertise.

The question many ask is, "is online learning effective?" When polled, 66% of academic leaders rated online education's learning outcomes at the same as or even better than face-to-face, traditional classes. The major reasons for the ever increasing popularity of e-learning can be summed up as:

1) Laid-off employees looking to get into better standing to get a job through education.

2) Online courses are more affordable than offline counterparts.

Pressure continues to increase on education budgets around the globe. Yet despite this fact, the education sector is continuing to increase its investment in technology related to learning. Ed tech funding jumped 55 percent in 2014 with no signs of slowing down, according to CB Insights. A report from Global Industry Analysts (GIA) predicted that the global e-learning market will have reached $107 billion in 2015, propelled by technological advancements and demand for additional skills. Keeping in mind GIA's $107B estimate for last year, the corporate e-learning market is expected to increase about 13 percent annually until 2017; this is because an increasing number of companies are realizing that there's great value in furthering their employees' knowledge in ways that are flexible, cost-effective, and tailored to each individual's needs. Unlike with classroom-based training, learners can train on their own time using customized formats. Everyone can move at their own pace, learning what they need to know and exploring their own interests. Though being a relatively young industry, corporate e-learning promises to deliver new models of teaching and a future of exciting breakthroughs.

Apart from computer based e-learning, mobile learning is another fancy yet popular means of education on doorstep. The worldwide market for Mobile Learning products and services reached $5.3 billion in 2012. With a compound annual growth rate of 18.2% for the next five years, it was estimated that the worldwide mobile learning market in 2015 would have reached an $8.7 billion mark and it will even reach $12.2 billion by 2017. It is worth to note that while in 2012 the top buyers of mobile learning products and services where US, Japan, South Korea, China, and India, it is expected that by 2017 the top buyers of mobile learning products and services will be China, US, Indonesia, India, and Brazil.

These impressive results are only limited to the regions where internet access is available and economic to the average user. Despite its tremendous growth, Internet access is not distributed equally within or between countries. The digital divide refers to “the gap between people with effective access to information and communications technology (ICT), and those with very limited or no access”. The gap between people with Internet access and those without is one of many aspects of the digital divide. Whether someone has access to the Internet can depend greatly on financial status, geographical location as well as government policies. “Low-income, rural, and minority populations have received special scrutiny as the technological "have-nots." In 2011, in developing countries, 25% of households had a computer and 20% had Internet access, while in developed countries the figures were 74% of households had a computer and 71% had Internet access. One of the great challenges for Internet access in general and for broadband access in particular is to provide service to potential customers in areas of low population density, such as to farmers, ranchers, and small towns. In cities where the population density is high, it is easier for a service provider to recover equipment costs, but each rural customer may require expensive equipment to get connected. Hence, Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISPs) is rapidly becoming a popular broadband option for rural areas.

Apart from distance learning, the exposure that internet has provided to students is extra ordinary. Everything that they need to know about anything is right there, a click away. Be it projects, homework, research papers or just a casual curiosity, students have it all. But it’s not always roses, is it? The prospect of having every kind of information at the disposal of kids raises the issue of age inappropriate exposure. Yeah sure there are child safety options available in the settings, but it does not make internet a safe space for kids.

With increasing importance of the rat race of being the best, saving every minute of doing unnecessary work has become the most important priority. As always, internet comes to save the day here as well. With ever developing and ever changing economy, digital sourcing of data is very important. Whether big or small, every industry has adapted to the technical way of keeping records and other sensitive data. Many companies also have their individual intranets in addition to internet. Intranets are networks connecting the employees and the employers internally with each other. All the day to day data transfers and other tasks are performed via this internal network. It might be a very advanced or techsavy way of running a company, but its safety is very debatable. With great power comes great responsibility; similarly with internet comes hackers, malwares and viruses and even one of them is enough to corrupt the sensitive data costing the company a fortune.

Internet has touched all the age groups and all the spheres of their life, but it has surely influenced the younger sect the most. From a toddler amusing itself with talking tom to an 18 year old trying to set a trend on social media, internet has now become the skin of youngsters. Parents everywhere are concerned about their kids spending long hours on the internet; be it games or social media.

Obesity due to reduced physical activity, online interaction with strangers or obsession with unhealthy trends, these aren’t even close to the list of concerns and unknown dangers that come with this increased interaction between the kids and the web. Internet may have brought us close, but it sure has a lot of baggage that comes with it. Weighing all the pros with the cons, it’s fair to say that internet access has changed the way in which many people think and has become an integral part of peoples economic, political, and social lives. Providing Internet access to more people in the world will allow them to take advantage of the “political, social, economic, educational, and career opportunities” available over the Internet, given we are careful and smart while using it and sharing information. The web may come off as an unsafe space for kids but we cannot overlook the fact that it is also an ocean of opportunities when used under supervision of an adult. Stay connected folks!

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