The internet has been in mainstream existence since the mid-1990s, when it was fully commercialised and equipped to carry consumer traffic. USA Today once described the advent of the internet as one of the ‘New Seven Wonders’ of the world. Despite the many challenges that the connected world has brought, there have been many instances of the internet making Earth a much smaller place. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to use video calls to see our nearest and dearest living on the other side of the world. We wouldn’t be able to play our favourite slots games from home via secure and licensed online casinos that stream the action in real time. Nor would we be able to keep up to date with news as it happens via social media feeds like Twitter.
Of course, there are some that feel the internet has had the opposite effect and has separated people rather than bringing them closer together. There is some substance to this point of view. You only have to look at a typical open-plan office to find colleagues emailing each other instead of walking over and discussing work-related issues face-to-face. In this instance, people believe the internet has made people lazier and more isolated.
Nevertheless, there are so many ways in which this complex debate can be spun in a more positive light. Below, we investigate in more detail the way in which connectivity has brought out the best in people, opening new lines of communication that have never existed before.
There is no doubt that remote working has become a way of life for many. The concept of a ‘digital nomad’ would not be possible without the power of the internet. Digital nomads work remotely and travel around the world simultaneously. The beauty of a digital nomad lifestyle is that work does not constrain your location. In fact, remote working means there is quite literally no barriers – apart from the issue of time zones, of course!
Thanks to the marvels of internet connectivity, people can hop on to any accessible public or private Wi-Fi network to conduct their day-to-day tasks. The advent of web-based applications has also made remote working infinitely easier, whilst enabling workers to feel equally connected to staff – even if they are working in another town, city or country. Web apps like Trello and Basecamp make it easier than ever for workers to upload and share documents and files with colleagues in real time. Colleagues can also respond to ‘threads’ within specific tasks in the same way as they would face-to-face in an office.
Although we’ve said that the lack of face-to-face interaction causes some people to become isolated, the internet’s enabling of the digital nomad lifestyle has given professionals young and old the freedom to roam and explore new cultures, places and communities.
Today, social networks are not just a social platform for family and friends, they have become an integral marketing tool for businesses too. It was the year 2005 when Facebook took the bold decision to launch its social network into the global ecosystem, just two years after the launch of the Myspace platform that was incredibly popular among millennials. LinkedIn was already firmly on the scene at this point too, having launched its B2B social networking portal in 2002.
By 2008, Facebook successfully eclipsed Myspace, which eventually proved the undoing of the trailblazing platform as it’s been something of a social networking afterthought ever since. At the same time, Twitter’s microblogging portal, allowing users to send ‘tweets’ of 140 characters to their ‘followers’, was also taking flight.
As of 2021, Pew Research Center revealed that Facebook’s active global user base had grown to a staggering 2.8 billion. Pew also confirmed that more than a fifth (22%) of American adults used Twitter on a regular basis as of 2020. We shouldn’t forget the role Reddit plays in the evolution of social networking communities. Initially launched as a news-sharing portal, Reddit’s 300 million-plus user base has since become a social commentary platform, allowing users to collaborate and connect on a host of topics and industries. The power of Reddit was demonstrated recently when its community of retail investors collaborated to force up the price of the GameStop share price, in protest against the institutional investors and hedge funds that were profiting on the company’s downfall.
Aside from these microblogging-style social platforms, the internet has also ushered in photo-sharing social networks like Instagram and Pinterest. Instagram connects family and friends, as well as businesses, adopting the same hashtag approach as Twitter. Meanwhile Pinterest has become a smart way for brands to reach out to consumers and fellow businesses.
Discussion forums and message boards have also been a key enabler in bringing people closer together online. It doesn’t matter where you are based or who you are, message boards allow people to create accounts and interact with like-minded people in a safe and secure environment.
Message boards are still a notorious hotbed for avid sports enthusiasts. People and families have become increasingly transient in recent decades, so it’s entirely possible for people to move away from the towns and cities and sports teams they’ve supported loyally for years on end. Discussion forums give overseas fans the ability to connect with their fellow supporters and even seek out like-minded people who live in their new area.
Sports fans who may live on the other side of the world can still feel connected to the heart of their favourite clubs. They can react to transfer speculation and new signings just like a fan that lives only a few miles from a club’s stadium.
It’s not just sports fans who the message boards have helped bring closer together. Message boards can help provide advice and support for everyday issues too. Money Saving Expert’s discussion forum is a prime example, with dedicated sub-forums covering a host of real-life issues and topics, from utilities providers through to mortgages and saving habits. Without the internet, these users would not have access to the know-how and support of people who can help others save money or enjoy a savvier lifestyle.
The internet may have its challenges surrounding user security and safeguarding, but it’s also been a marvellous technological revolution which has brought people and communities together – and helped to create new communities too.