The Internet is a network connecting computers across the world. It has its origins in military and academic projects dating back to the 1960s, but began to be more widely available from the end of the 1980s. The creation of the World Wide Web (1989) and web browsers (early 1990s) gave ordinary people easy ways of getting around the Internet. Over the past fifteen years, millions of different websites have been set up, giving people the chance to shop, do business, play, learn and communicate online. Over the same period it has become much easier, cheaper and faster to get online in order to do these things.
Now more than 30% of the global population have access to the Internet. Continent-wise, this breaks down as: Europe: 58.3%, North America 78.3%, Latin America 36.2%, Africa 11.4%, Asia 23.8% and Oceania 60.1%. These figures are growing all the time, as technology designed to access the Internet becomes both more mobile and much cheaper to produce. The arrival of the Internet has vastly changed the way in which people search and access information. News travels more quickly than ever, and current affairs can be discussed all over the world instantaneously via forums, blogs, and social networks. Search engines like Google and Wikipedia have now become ubiquitous starting points for researching anything from minor queries to academic reports. Many people also maintain social links through the Internet with services such like Facebook, Skype, and Flickr, to name but a few. Research in the UK has shown that the average adult spends around 22 hours 15 minutes online each month.
Some believe the Internet is dominating the lives of its users. Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way we Think, Read and Remember, that all this time spend online cannot be healthy, whereas other have cheered the increased possibilities for research, meeting new people and keeping in contact with one another. The strongly contested debate remains as to whether the internet is an active force for good in society or not.
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