How Does The Internet Affect The Way People Find And Exchange Information?
When Tim Berners Lee signed up for the CERN project in 1989, the world had little idea of what was about to come next.
And sure, even Tim Berners didn’t!
He was called to fill a gap of automated information sharing between a group of scientists and institutes across the world. It then became a phenomenon that lit up the world and changed the very way we look at this world, down to our own selves.
Remember how the invention of the automobile changed our very perception of time, cutting through the world, and across civilizations? Yeah, with the internet, something similar has happened. Actually, a lot more if you take a closer look!
Other than ushering in a sea of information, a very industry has grown around this vast ocean.
This ocean is like the ever-watchful eye of Sauron that knows everything, sees everything, hears everything, and perhaps, has divided the entire world into a series of algorithms.
So, to understand ‘how does the internet affect the way people find and exchange information?’, we will divide this question into two parts: How does the internet affect people? And what role does it play in how people find information across the web?
Life before the internet, in a word, was simple. The repositories of all kinds of information used to be the libraries, newspapers, and research journals. And there wasn’t a concept of a soft copy, or let alone, a ‘copy.’ The best reproduction of any piece of information was a photocopy.
But everything changed after computers became the medium, filter, creator, and disseminator of all human knowledge. Today, our thoughts are digitized, archived, and recorded, often without our knowledge, and passed on to somewhere called ‘servers.’ But we’ll come back to that later.
As the internet got democratized, people started sharing whatever they had in their minds, and so increased the complexity of the network that held everything together. The final result was a vast, self-sustaining ecosystem of information that’s so much more than a repository.
The internet affects our daily lives in a multitude of ways, and it simply feels surreal to think of the medium’s omniscience.
In the last two decades, the world wide web has seen some mini giants such as Google and Facebook cropping up and growing exponentially. In fact, it has reached the point where they have become the other’s replica in terms of the information they exchange and retain.
Moreover, the amount of info we have shared across the internet over all these years has led to digital personas of each of us, who have the same needs, desires, quirks, and kinks as we do.
Yeah, let that sink in!
Let’s say, for example, Mr. X opens a Gmail account and a Facebook account, from his smartphone. And even if he doesn’t do online shopping, he must be window-shopping at times, and Amazon has a separate section altogether that’s called ‘Inspired by your recent shopping trends.’
Our point is, these small pieces of personal info go a long way in creating our respective personas, and we voluntarily contribute to it. So, basically, the gatekeepers of the internet already know from their multi-million algorithms what we may be thinking, what songs we may like, what we aspire to become, or who!
All those times you have been amazed at how Youtube manages to suggest those exact songs from your childhood, remember it boils down to a series of algorithms. It’s this perfect amalgam of personal info, of what people share all day across the world and a giant churning wheel that makes, breaks, and decides what’s trending.
Well, have you done some shopping on Amazon, and then logged in on Facebook to find random ads showing those very products you looked for? In short, that’s how the internet works! Add to that a couple of strategies and techniques (it just sounds easy but isn’t), and you will get a clear understanding of how things brew on the internet.
It’s a common saying that the best place to hide a dead body is the second page of Google. The underlying meaning signifies that however good a piece of information is, it still has to work quite hard to get to the first page. But how to do it, keeping in mind that the amount of content produced and posted in a single day can never be consumed by one human being in their entire lifetime?
So, what transpires is that the actual helpfulness or utility of a piece of information takes a backseat, and what comes to the forefront is a mix of strategies and plans. It’s an elaborate universe down there whose only aim is to get to the top 1% of the top 1%. And the end game is reserving a seat on the first page of the popular search engines.
Therefore, when you type a question, the suggestions on the first page may not be the ones with the best answers, but with the best strategies.
Here’s when things start getting interesting. It’s not one datacenter from which everything emanates. The internet may be an ever-watchful eye, but that eye has gotten disintegrated into millions of servers across the world. And if you google ‘where is the internet stored,’ the irony would laugh at its own joke!
The internet is everywhere. End of story! It’s in our hard drives, it’s in large, highly secured data warehouses, and servers. And all the giants like Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple have their personal data servers. So, if you hit up this question on Google, it will access your computer for some data repositories which redirect to many other servers across the world.
Let’s say, you click on the first suggestion of this question, which is a Quora link, a highly revered Q/A platform. It has answers from all over the world, and to view a page, your browser will borrow a bit from all those data centers which have had a contribution in building that particular page.
So, if Ron answered the question from Congo, and Linda from England, your browser will seek permission from Quora’s central server. And after getting redirected, it will access the hard drives of Ron and Linda to show you the entire webpage.
So, in essence, everything is there in the cloud, roaming all around us, and with the internet, everyday things are getting closer to a globally recognized virtual universe.
Today, the informational exchange has shifted its core from search engines to social media, which is an entirely different ball game altogether.
For instance, the social media giant, Facebook, doesn’t work on keyword-based strategies. There are sponsored posts, ads, profitable profiles, and a lot of other elements that go on to make a post ‘successful’ here. It needs to stand somewhere in the graph of all these checkpoints to reach the audience you’re vouching for.
The reach of a piece of info depends not just on how well connected your profile is, but also the network of hashtags (trending brackets of what’s hot on the internet) it can connect to.
And needless to say, it also depends on the gatekeepers who will show or hide info based on whose interests it may or may not hurt. After all, you need ads if you’re running a business!
In 2016, there was a controversy where many human rights organizations rebuked Mark Zuckerberg for censoring Kashmir-related posts. And similar allegations have come up against other social media giants as well, so much so that they have disrupted fair political elections.
The point is, there is information, then there are filters, and any piece of news has to pass through a rigorous filtering process before it is considered ‘shareable’ by these gatekeepers.
So, contrary to popular opinion, the internet is a mix and match of censorship, freedom of speech, news that’s doctored, and that isn’t. Finally, there is a post’s ‘reach’ which stems from a whole new series of calculations.
Cynicism apart, the internet is the mightiest tool of reaching out to this global world today. Even a few years ago, we couldn’t have mastered the art of anything (some even aim to learn driving by watching Youtube videos) just by hitting a few keys in a search bar.
It’s the greatest tool that has recorded, improvised, and has given access to everything that humanity has ever known. We belong to a world where in the middle of the night, you can reach out to the hundreds and thousands of social-media junkies and talk about all that matters to you.
The internet ensures your voice always has an echo, even if a faint one.
Like Stephen Hawking said, “We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”