The Internet began in 1969 as ARPANET, a method to link computers together for data sharing developed by the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). The development of the World Wide Web (the Internet as we know it) began in 1989 as a project by British scientist Tim Berners-Lee. In 1994, not long after the birth of the web, only 11 million people were online. By 2014, billions of people were on the Internet [sources: Berkman, Pew Internet Research Project]. With high-speed broadband connections at home and cellular data on a lot of our phones, many people are essentially always online.
The Internet has made most of the previously mentioned disruptions possible and then some. We have access to vast amounts of human knowledge through web browsers and search engines, along with incredible communication and information sharing tools. We can make Voice over IP (VoIP) calls, do video chat, instant message and send e-mail, all nearly instantaneously.
The Internet is transforming retail with online purchasing and mobile payment, education with online classes and our consumption of entertainment with media streaming, online gaming and downloadable e-books.
There are even some upsides that have job loss related downsides. People are booking travel themselves instead of using travel agents, doing their banking online instead of going to the bank, buying stocks online instead of consulting a broker and sending e-mail instead of posting letters. Brick-and-mortar retail store sales have suffered and now most also have their own online retail presences. People get most of their news online, leading to declines in newspaper and magazine subscriptions. Even serious news sites have blogs and social media accounts that link back to their articles.
You can pay your bills all at once from a single financial institution's website. The percentage of bills paid by traditional mail dropped below 50 percent in 2010, according to the US Postal Service [source: Schmid]. You can even pay for print postage from an online site for any physical items you do have to send through the mail and just drop them off at the post office or hand them to your mail carrier.
Our online access allows some of us to telecommute instead of driving to work, leading to changes in traditional workspaces and work practices. Video conferencing at work is more and more common. On the flip side, the Internet also makes it easy to check personal e-mail, peruse retail sites, post on social networking sites and otherwise goof off while we're at the office.
The Internet has transformed advertising, as well as and charitable and political fundraising. Any company or non-profit entity that wants to be taken seriously needs to have a wesite and a presence on the major social media sites, and even in TV and print ads, you might see Twitter, Facebook and other social network logos.
The so-called Internet of things, involving lots of gadgets that can wirelessly send data, is making the connected home a real thing. We're beginning to be able to control home appliances and monitoring devices from our phones while we're away from our domiciles. At this point, there's no limit to the possibilities that the Internet will bring in the future.