Skip to main content

The impact of the Internet

Children on the Internet

Unlimited knowledge : 'It must be true; I read it on the Internet!'

We increasingly use the World Wide Web as a universal reference library. It has transformed research and education - but you should use it with care.

Type any keyword into a search engine and the chances are you will find a host of sites with information on that topic.

With a book or a journal, you get clues - the quality of the printing and binding, its age, who wrote it, who published it.

With a website, many of these clues are missing or hidden. Many sites offer texts that are biased, unchecked, intentionally misleading - in short, just plain wrong. The scary thing is that one mistake can be copied and pasted from one site to the next. With repetition, lies become accepted as truth and errors turn into 'facts'.

Love on the Internet

Virtual relationships : we met in cyberspace

One major impact that the Internet has had on society is in transforming the field of personal relationships.

The Web has taken the old models of personal adverts and dating agencies and catapulted them into new dimensions.

The new breed of online dating sites allow people to 'meet' at a distance, chat in real time or by e-mail, exchange photographs, even 'talk' to each other with voicemails.

Distance is no longer an object - many international romances have blossomed on the Internet.

Chat rooms are another extremely popular way for meeting people from all round the world online. People can discuss whatever they wish and join or leave whenever they choose.

It's been estimated that as many as 20 million people in the world have registered with an online dating agency or forum at some point. These are among the few Internet-based business areas (apart from pornography) that have consistently made profits.

Like any other form of 'distance dating', online services need to be treated with care. Trust can be misplaced; it's extremely easy to lie and sadly, there are many stories of bad experiences.

However, a survey commissioned by Microsoft suggested that around two in every three online 'daters' form at least one long-term relationship and that three per cent eventually marry someone they met online.

So there are now millions of people in the world who found love in cyberspace.


Remote intervention : telemedicine and beyond

The Internet and multimedia have the potential to transform healthcare by removing the need for doctor and patient to be in the same room.

Telemedicine is nothing new though. For years live video links have enabled hospitals and clinics to call in the expertise of a consultant in a different hospital.

Since 1997 an 'electronic'  service provided by BT has carried the vital computer-to-computer messaging for key NHS systems such as items of service payments for GPs, patient registrations and pathology results messaging from NHS trusts to GP surgeries, together with personal messaging such as e-mail.

Newer ideas include the use of e-medicine', where patients consult doctors by e-mail or video as an alternative to waiting in surgeries. It is an attractive solution to many of the limitations of conventional medicine, particularly for patients too weak or faced with a lengthy journey to see their doctor.

There are problems to overcome with e-medicine. Confidentiality, security and the need to ensure accurate diagnosis without being able to touch the patient. However, remote intervention techniques should not be ruled out altogether.

Today, many ambulance trauma units carry mobile telephones with built-in video cameras, enabling the paramedics to beam injury pictures back to base and secure vital treatment advice.

Learning on the net

Distance learning : the next big thing?

For many people their family commitments, jobs or location mean that 'normal' campus-based teaching is not an option. For them - learning from home or their workplace, at their own pace - is the only way they can participate in higher education, expand their knowledge or skill base, and increase their employability.

Distance Learning is the term used to cover a broad range of teaching and learning events in which the student is separated (at a distance) from the instructor or other fellow learners.

The Internet is an ideal medium for 'webucation'; learners can access teaching materials, submit coursework and take part in interactive training sessions.

This has many business applications, with most firms looking to speed the flow of knowledge around their organisations and maximise the productivity and awareness of every person - without taking them away from the job in hand.

e-mail at work

e-mail - at work : building a message backlog

It seems strange now that organisations managed without e-mail for so long, using telephones, the internal post, Telex and fax.

The impact of e-mail on most organisations has been astounding - transforming information delivery and making it possible to keep all members of a team informed about everything all the time.

At least that's the theory. The practice can fall a little short of that, with people increasingly complaining that they are becoming swamped with information - and that their working lives have become reduced to clearing their inbox.

Companies are becoming similarly worried that misused e-mail is stifling organisational efficiency.

Uncontrolled corporate e-mail systems can make companies extremely vulnerable too; libellous e-mails have led to expensive court cases, whilst  salacious private messages between staff have brought ridicule on their employers. The spread of malicious viruses transmitted via e-mail systems have destroyed data, crashed computer systems and cost companies fortunes around the world.

GPO advertisment promoting the telephone, 1935

e-mail - at play : the rise of e-lationships

Many experts would argue that e-mail is the most important method for communicating and developing relationships since the telephone.

In a sense, it takes us full circle. Our grandparents used to keep in touch by letter before the telephone age sent correspondence with text into what seemed like terminal decline.

Now it's back - but in a different form. The e-mail medium is more considered and deliberate than a telephone call. You have time and space to shape your thoughts into words.

But it's much faster than writing a letter - and you can get a reply in minutes if the other party is on line too. You can share e-mails among groups, use them to exchange pictures, sound or video files, or links to favourite websites.

Effectively e-mail is much more than electronic mail sent over the Internet. It creates a separate psychological environment in which pairs (or groups) of people can interact agreeably, providing a context and boundary in which 'e-lationships' can unfold.

Junk mail

e-mail - junk mail : spam, spam and more spam

SPAM (short for spiced ham) was a canned food that sustained millions of people during the Second World War.

It was ubiquitous and not always welcome - which is why spam became slang for one of the curses of the Internet age - junk mail.

On average, for every ten mails in your inbox around three will be spam - mass generated mails from companies trying to sell you anything from a piece of software to the latest 'unmissable opportunity' to get rich quick.

The sheer volume of spam is starting to choke the flow of messages across the Internet. Since most people pay for the time they spend online, it costs them money to receive this junk mail.

Stopping spam is almost impossible, however, and attempts to regulate it have so far failed.

All you can do is to set your browser's filters to send all spam into the trash or a junkmail folder. But do not use the 'unsubscribe' link that comes with most junkmail; this merely confirms you are an active e-mail user and will unleash further torrents of spam.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

featured story

100 years of automatic switching!
In 1912 the GPO installed Britain's first automatic telephone exchange in Epsom.

Discover the early days of the telephone...