When the Internet became available to the public on a widespread basis in the mid-1990s, it was little more than a luxury limited to a relatively small group of technophiles. Today, the network is so vast that the percentage of people who are not impacted by it is an even smaller group.
Dedicated Internet service providers (ISP) started to pop up everywhere back in those times. Not only have the mom-and-pop ISPs been squeezed out of the business today, but most of the larger ones have been, too.
Cable and phone companies have taken over the industry, consolidating Internet service into the bundles with the other services they provide. You can even get Internet bundles with DIRECTV. The consolidation of these markets is so extensive that you can get wireless, landline, television, and Internet service all from the same vendor in some cases.
The Internet is transforming the way people communicate. Long used as a medium for email and chat, the network is now used extensively for phone service. According to Transparency Market Research, the market for VoIP services was $70.9 billion in 2013, and is expected to nearly double in growth to $136.76 billion in 2020, a compounded annual growth rate of 9.7 percent.
Amazon is living proof of how retail shopping has been completely impacted by the growth of the Internet. Traditional retailers like Radio Shack, Barnes & Noble, JCPenney, and Toys ‘R’ Us have had a significant numbers of store closings that can be attributed to the rise of the Seattle-based online giant. Even the largest brick-and-mortar retail chains like Walmart and Target have a substantial online presence too.
Just as Amazon has changed the face of retail, Netflix has changed the way people get their video entertainment. Blockbuster Video stores, which once seemed to be as common as Starbucks, have completely disappeared from the landscape thanks to inexpensive subscription plans that made it easy to rent and return DVD videos by mail.
The Internet’s effect on Netflix alone is profound. High-speed Internet allowed the company to add a streaming service, but the technology has also made Netflix more than just a new and improved Blockbuster. As the original distributor of award winning series like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, Netflix is a competitor of the major television networks.
The growth of the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) is the most interesting of recent developments. It’s no surprise to even the casual observer how much the Internet is growing, but what is more surprising is that a large part of this growth won’t be driven by human demand, but by machines.
Any work involving the measuring and recording of data by a human can be replaced by machines connected to the Internet that do that work instead. Autonomous vehicles will transport passengers and have collision avoidance systems and other safety mechanisms.
We can already see the IoT in the form of home automation systems. With a smartphone or Web browser, homeowners can view what’s going at their homes through Internet-connected cameras. They can also use these systems to control lighting and HVAC systems for a more efficient use of energy than a traditional system that cools or heats an empty house.
The way that the Internet has transformed people’s lives is both undeniable and profound. It is so much a part of everyone’s lives today that even the rare person who does not have Internet service is still likely to be impacted by the network indirectly.