The Internet is a global computer network with an estimated 100 million users worldwide in 1998, and it’s growing like crazy; according to one estimate, more than 400,000 new Web pages appear every seven days, and the total amount of information available on this worldwide network doubles every year. But defining the Internet as a fast-growing global network understates its significance. We’re witnessing the birth of the first major mass medium since television; already, more than 50 percent of United States residents between the ages of 16 and 34 are Internet users. What’s more, the Internet isn’t simply a new mass medium; it’s the first mass medium that involves computers and uses digitized data. For this reason, it’s more interactive than TV, radio, and newspapers, which limit user interaction to content selection. With the Internet, people can create information as well as consume it. It’s the first truly democratic mass medium.
Computers and digitization affect this new medium’s possibilities in another important way: the potential for media convergence, the unification of all earlier media (including newspapers, TVs, radio, and telephones) Skeptical? The Internet is already a major source of breaking news for Internet users, rivaling such traditional sources as newspapers and the evening news on TV. Today, you can hear more radio stations on the Internet than you can with any conventional radio: More than 1,500radio stations in 100 countries are now broadcasting live shows over the Internet. And according to a recent estimate, over 5 percent of all long-distance voice telephone calls will travel over the Internet, creating a $9 billion industry and posing a genuine threat to the public switched telephone network (PSTN).
Traditional media aren’t going to go away soon, but you can count on one thing: The Internet is transforming almost everything we do, including communicating, obtaining information, learning, looking for jobs, keeping up with a career or a profession, and even falling in love. And it’s equally indispensable for businesses; according to a recent estimate, electronic commerce (e-commerce), facilitated by the Internet, will create a market worth billions in coming years. Just what is this network, and why is it growing as such explosive rates?
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