The internet has been succinctly defined by ‘Webopedia’ as a global network connecting millions of computers. It allows for the swift exchange of information, whether written, audio or pictorial, between its users. The internet no doubt remains one of the most fascinating and highly influential inventions of the 20th century, with well over 2 billion beneficiaries world-wide. This truth is aptly captured in these words of Bill gates; ‘the internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow’. And this matter even becomes more interesting on realising the fact that it is something that is virtually free and which is under no monopoly. It is open to everyone, old and young, rich or poor.
Indeed, the internet has evolved significantly since its inception. No doubt, it has come with a lot of advantages, for all classes of people. For students, it has made research a lot simpler. I can only imagine how solving take-home questions and essaying must have been in the pre-internet years; herculean no doubt. Intelligence and visits to the library were then inseparable friends, but today, you can get as much information as you need to become a genius on a subject and to write a perfect thesis on a given topic, simply by paying Google a visit, anytime of the day. Websites such as Wikipedia, Gradesavers, Google Scholar and NOUN open courseware contain readily available free academic contents for willing readers.
Furthermore, the internet has also proven to be an indispensable tool to entrepreneurs. Why, because it provides the perfect platform to publicise any merchandise, no matter how odd. Some companies, in fact, depend primarily on the net for survival; companies such as Amazon, eBay, Konga, OLX and Jumia. These are establishments which allow persons to window-shop on the net and then order for any product at their convenience. With the internet, any Tom, Dick and Harry can make a living simply by harnessing the on-hand market inherent therein.
The internet is now part of our reality; anyone who attempts to do without it only does so at his own peril. It can both make and mar an individual; be him a politician, journalist, or even a fraudster.
It cannot be gainsaid that the internet has been a veritable social, academic, economic and political tool. It can be used for a plethora of things including seeking knowledge, fostering unity, tackling irregularities and creating awareness. However, it would be very deceitful to suggest that the use of the internet has been a jolly-good ride thus far, as that is far from the truth. The internet also has its downsides. Just like Jimmy Wales said on Al-Jazeera’s ‘Head-to-Head’, ‘the internet is a tool, it is not automatically a tool for good.’
One of the challenges posed by the use of internet is that of massive time wastage. This is because many pages and networks on the net are very addictive. After all, there is a good reason Blackberry used to be called ‘Crackberry’, alluding to crack cocaine. You want to keep liking, sharing, tweeting, commenting, uploading, fighting for ‘front-page’ or ‘first-to-comment’; and there’s really no end to it. Take a look at Nairaland, which has a feature of displaying the number of hours, days or months each member has spent on the forum, perhaps to serve as a yardstick of seniority. We find some who have spent as much as 6, 7 months, and they are still active. Any serious-minded business-oriented person will know how much can be monetarily achieved over this span of time.
People, most especially the youths, are ceaselessly glued to their browsing gadgets, just to know if anything new has come up. And sure enough, there is always something new. People even go as far as pinging in toilets, while crossing the street or even during interviews. That’s how bad the situation is.
What’s more, pornography and exposure to nudity is another key problem constituted by the internet. There are already tons of websites committed to misleading millions of people by exploiting their carnal weakness. It has been statistically proven that 12 percent of all sites are porn-oriented and 35 percent of all downloads.
The internet equally allows a fast spread of hate speech, propaganda and all sorts of fallacious information. A bored faceless individual sitting in his bedroom can just decide to cook up a story about Boko-Haram infecting beans and sending them to the South, a planned attack on the University of Ibadan, a suspected gay caught around town etc., and before you say Jack, the story goes viral and is believed by tons of people.
To conclude, I wish to re-assert that the internet is nothing but a tool, and like a knife, can either be used for good or evil. We must all be careful how we go about using the things the virtual world has got to offer, so that we may avoid hurting others, and at the same time, avoid getting hurt by others. Noam Chomsky once remarked that the internet could be a very positive step towards education, organisation and participation in a meaningful society. But then all that depends on us; for the internet can only go as far as we allow it.