The Evolution of the Internet

When many of us think of the Internet, we think of Google, Facebook, or YouTube. More specifically we are thinking of the participatory web. But the Internet was not always meant to be a place in which we could post a #selfie. The web “was intended to let physicists share research findings online” (Zuckerman, 2014). It is imperative to understand the evolution of the online space to grasp the way in which it is used today. The current day Internet is used as a microphone for social and cultural movements. The Internet has grown into a powerful machine that has wide ranging accessibility, but it has not always been this way. As one can see in the video below, even the Internet’s speed has taken a drastic transformation. This week’s readings look to examine the ways in which the Internet has changed, and tracks its uses from its conception until present day.

Aforementioned, the Internet was created for purely academic reasons. “The Internet was largely government and university built, and it was primarily a text based network used by experienced computer professionals” (Zuckerman, 2014). This is a fascinating beginning for a tool in which a 5 year old can now navigate. This accessibility began to form when the Internet began its transition from academic Internet to transactional Internet. The transactional Internet was spearheaded by companies like Amazon and Ebay (Zuckerman 2014). For the first time, people could use the Internet as a place of commerce. The Internet was no longer an online library, but took a less serious use. This was also a further plunge into the Internet replicating real life. People for the first time were able to imitate a shopping experience in the comfort of their own homes. This phenomenon continues to flourish in this day as retailers push to develop technologies that enhance the retail experience online. As seen in the video below, retailers are now able to use technologies that allow customers to be matched with items they might prefer, and allow brands to grow.

In the early 2000’s, the Internet saw the rise of participatory media platforms. Participatory media describes platforms in which multiple people participate in a single space. Early examples of this were Blogger, MySpace, and LinkedIn; and later Facebook, WordPress, and YouTube. Other personal publishing websites such as WordPress were also part of this wave (Zuckerman 2014). This wave of Internet usage was the first in which users created their own experience. For example with Facebook or MySpace, people are given a forum in which they can express their individual experiences. Before the Internet was brought to the user, but in this era, the user is bring him or herself to the internet. While a bit silly, the comic below demonstrates this transition. The Internet, after the creation of these websites was no longer anonymous. It could be used to voice any opinion and was available to any individual.

Lim-Steiner-dog-530x180

Participatory Internet allowed individuals to have a voice in the world that actually could be heard. In a final leap, activism entered on various social media platforms. As discussed in Suey Park’s “Hashtags as Decolonial Projects with Radical Origins”, we see how this movement has taken like wild fire on twitter. Specifically, women of color are able to “resist the status quo” of silence and speak up for the formerly silenced minorities. But as Park points out, the rise of this social movement through hashtags has had detrimental effects. Specifically, the mainstream media has attempted to make such “movements into spectacles rather than acknowledging them as the origins of serious decrees for radical action” (2014). Rather, we should view these twitter movements as “intentionally constructed through the labor of specific groups” (Park 2014). This frontier of web engagement demonstrates how transformative the web can be in political movement. The power of the wide web is no longer just for scholars with high reaching ideas. As demonstrated by the hashtag movement, the web be taken hold of and molded into a users own creation.

Another example of this new wave of participatory media, could be seen in the #itooamharvard movement. This was a student created movement that highlighted the voices of black student at Harvard. Like the Park article articulates, we can see here the catalyzing effect the hashtag can have on a movement. We can also see from this movement how accessible the web is today. This was a movement created by a group of students that not only reached the student body, but caught the attention of the media and even the President of the United States.

 Harvard

It is clear from this week’s readings that the Internet has grown beyond its original use. It can be used for social change, and it can even save lives. As cited in the World Disasters Report, the Internet played a big role in Japan, when the tsunamis hit. The Internet is integral in keeping people up to date on what relief efforts were available (World Disasters Report, 51). The Internet is not longer a single purpose tool. It has blossomed into a global place of commerce for ideas. It is amazing to see the progression of a portal once used for academia that is now populated with videos of cute animals falling down stairs. But regardless of the content, it cannot be contested that the Internet has changed in a way that has made it attainable to an everyday person. And even though we still have to fight against silences on the web (i.e. people who do not have access to modern technologies), it is certainly interesting to look at its evolution.

And I leave you with this….

Works Cited

“Cute Cats to the Rescue? Participatory Media and Political Expression.”DSpace@MIT:. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

Park, Suey, and Eunsong Kim. “Hashtags as Decolonial Projects with Radical Origins.” Modelviewculture.com. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

World Disasters Report. Geneva: International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Irfc.org. International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Web. 15 Nov. 2014.

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