Internet Setting

Internet the global, distributed packet-switching network that interconnects computers. The Internet was initially developed by the US Defense Department in the 1970s as a safeguard against the failure of military communications systems during a nuclear attack. By the mid-1980s Internet technology was being appropriated by educational and research institutions as well as businesses and government organizations where it was widely viewed as an opportunity to document and access information. The Internet is now present in millions of organizations and private households around the globe and is essentially available to anyone with access to a personal computer and a telephone line. Its wide variety of uses range from what are regarded as legitimate applications such as advertising, shopping, library catalogues, newspaper archives, and financial pages, to its use for recreational or illicit ‘S urfing’: ‘chat-rooms’, gossip, and eroticism. Because of its use by individuals and groups wanting to broadcast and access illicit or illegal material, the Internet is often regarded as providing a democratic forum for underground subcultures and organizations to communicate their desires, beliefs, and political agendas. These democratizing implications also extend to the economy with consumers being able to access the best (cheapest) prices and products available. However, there is the issue that these possibilities remain limited to those with access to the technology and knowledge. The immense amount of information available on the Internet and the know-how required to make effective use of the technology restrict the applications for the average ‘S urfer’ who may spend hours moving between trivial sites. Alongside possibilities for global networking runs the danger that information-rich countries will monopolize both the technology and know-how required to distribute information and exclude dispossessed nations from the advantages available to those with access to the World Wide Web. See also CYBERCULTURE, INFORMATION SOCIETY, NETWORK SOCIETY.