If you've been following our tutorials up until now, we've shown you some of the many things that can be accomplished using the Internet. So that means the Internet must be pretty great, right? Well, it is an extremely useful invention, but like most things in life, using the Internet in the wrong way can lead to bad things happening and other unintended consequences. The following is a list of some things that people have pointed out as being good or not-so-good about the Internet.
Advantages of the Internet
Faster and more widespread communication
One of the biggest advantages of the Internet is that it has vastly increased the speed and scope of communication. A letter that could have taken days or weeks to reach someone a few towns or cities over now takes only a few minutes (or sometimes seconds) with email. Plus, with the Internet being a more-or-less worldwide network, one can keep in touch on a fairly regular basis with loved ones who are on vacation in the Mediterranean, or even connect and make friends with people living in Africa or Asia!
Massive information resource
The World Wide Web was designed to be the ultimate library, and many people use it in just such a manner. Whether one is trying to complete a school project or academic paper, trying to find out about a product or service that will help them out in life, or just looking for trivia on something they enjoy, chances are that the World Wide Web has the information they need. And, if one doesn't exactly know what they are looking for, search engine websites can help point people in the right direction by matching key words or phrases to content on specific web pages.
More convenient services
Many common and essential services have moved to the Internet in order to make themselves accessible and convenient to people. For example, many banks allow their customers to complete their transactions online, instead of having to visit their actual branches during normal business hours. In addition, there are several companies and e-commerce websites that allow people to buy and sell goods, and then ship them off or have them dropped off without them ever having to leave their homes.
Just because the Internet is one of the greatest technological inventions of our time doesn't mean that we can't have a good time with it! There are plenty of games that can be played on or over the Internet, plus many movies, TV shows, and songs that can be watched, listened to, or downloaded over the Internet. Another advantage is that many of these things are "on-demand", meaning that you can access them immediately, and you don't have to wait for them to become available at a certain time.
Making things easier and quicker in everyday life
As we discussed in our The Internet of Things article, people are beginning to adapt the connectivity principles of the Internet to objects that we use in everyday life. The Internet is helping people monitor their health, keep their cars safe, locate their lost pets, manage the lights and locks in their homes, or even access the World Wide Web just by wearing glasses or a watch! Companies are looking for new ways to integrate the Internet into our lives, and are finding more applications for the Internet every day.
Disadvantages of the Internet
We've already pointed out that the Internet is a great resource for information. Unfortunately, it has become so easy to put information on the Internet that a lot of it overlaps and is needlessly redundant. Just try typing "how to fix a leaky faucet" into a search engine, and you'll probably find at least 25 different websites that show you how to do it. Also, just because information is available on the Internet doesn't mean that it's necessarily reliable; it may not be fact-checked or cited with proper sources.
Worst of all is when people use this information overload as a weapon to slow down people's computers or Internet connections ('spam') or trick people into doing something dangerous online by pretending that their information is legitimate when it's really not ('phishing').
Lack of personal interaction
Sure, people can communicate in various ways over the Internet, such as sending instant text messages, emails, video messages, phone calls, or video chat. But psychologically speaking, none of these things are a substitute for talking with someone face-to-face. Studies suggest that people who use the Internet to socialize rather than hanging out with people in real life are more likely to feel lonely and isolated. This is especially true if they simply broadcast what they're feeling and don't take the time to actually engage in a discussion with someone. Maybe those "social networks" aren't so "social" after all.
This one is somewhat of a mixed bag. In some cases, anonymity on the Internet is useful in that it keeps people safe from criminals and authoritarian governments when they do legitimate things like online banking or chatting with their loved ones. On the other hand, anonymity on the Internet also opens the door for criminals to conduct business without anyone being able to identify them as actual people. On a smaller scale, the convention that many websites and Internet-based applications use of allowing people to be identified by "user names" (such as "MisterBlaster421") has led many to send intentionally insulting and offensive information to others over the Internet. The idea is that, since these people are only known by their user names and not by their real names, there will be no real-life consequences to being disrespectful towards others on the Internet.
Few moral checks on content
While there are some national and international laws that prevent access to certain content, in general, there are few limits on what people of any age or maturity level can post or find on the Internet and World Wide Web. This includes subject matter that is overly sexual, violent, or hateful and offensive in nature. While there are some websites which host this type of content that are responsible enough to require people to pass age checks in order to access them, many others don't.
Risk to personal information
There are many websites that require you to input personal information in order to use them. This may be because they need your billing and/or address details if you're using them to buy or sell things, or maybe just because they want you to prove that you're a real person and not a computer program that someone cooked up to cause trouble. Or, sometimes, you may reveal personal information about yourself voluntarily, such as if you are chatting with friends over the Internet or are filling out a profile on a dating website or other social network.
While this is usually either a harmless exercise or one that is protected by a bunch of security measures, there is always the unfortunate risk that criminals may be able to find this information and use it to profit at your expense… or at least your embarrassment.
Again, whether the Internet is good or bad largely depends on whether or not it's used properly. Though some people use the Internet carelessly or for insidious purposes, most people do use the Internet as it was intended to be used. As long as you're smart with how you use the Internet, its advantages will almost always outweigh its disadvantages, and you'll find that it's an invaluable tool for helping you with some of the main activities that you do every day.