A rally of ideas.
By Charles Kee
The Internet, despite its supposed user-friendliness, is one of the most complex and least understood of Man’s innovations. The brainchild of scientists of America’s Defence Advanced Research Project Agency, it has evolved tillits creators would no longer recognise it today. The speed at which the Internet adapts to new challenges has brought with it many changes to the world. Here are 3 ways in which the Internet has revolutionised our world.
1. Human rights
The Internet is the impetus to the rapid advancement of human rights. Previously, the issue of human rights was mostly talk and little act. Even with implementation of international charters like the United Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations, infringements upon human rights were still carried out, as evident by the Rwandan Genocide and the lack of access to information due to governmental censorship in countries like Zimbabwe. However, with the Internet becoming ubiquitous globally, people will have greater power over the enforcement over their own rights. To use a cliché, but undoubtedly pertinent example to prove my point, the Arab Spring of 2011 was catalysed by the Internet. Anger against the government that was previously simmering under the surface of society, was unleashed into an inferno of outrage, when a video of a Tunisian man burning himself due to the lack of jobs, was spread on the internet. Revolts and protests were also organised online. The use of the Internet was so pervasive that it has also been termed the ‘Facebook Revolution’. It has allowed protesters to connect and reach out more to others who were angered by the rampant violation of human rights by the government in the Arab countries. This has given a weapon to the masses, a voice to the common man, to reach out from their immediate community and give voice to their beliefs, protesting against injustices and oppression. They are able to make their belief resonate with someone a continent away, allowing them to stir the international community into cries for their respective governments to mete out justice.
It is without a doubt that the Internet has altered the way people are educated. Common occurrences include online learning and class discussions online. However, how have higher education been affected by the advent, and subsequent spread, of the Internet?
In April 2001, Charles M. Vest, the current MIT President, announced that Massachusetts Institute of Technology would make its education materials for all their courses freely available online. Other prominent universities like Yale, Stanford and even Harvard have followed in their footsteps. This has encouraged a lot of people to seek education online freely rather than pay an exorbitant sum for a degree. Entrepreneur, PayPal co-founder and early Facebook investor, Peter Thiel, started a vigorous debate over whether we really need college since we have access to these free educations that is by no means lacking in quality or quantity. He believed that physical universities were doing little to add value to students’ education and so students should seek free, online education as a more financially-efficient alternative. Indeed, the internet has opened up new doors to education, allowing it to be accessible to not just those who can pay for it, but even to those who seek to acquire new skills but without the financial capabilities to do so. The Internet thus brings a new dimension into the education system. Considering the risk-adverse nature of Singaporeans, it is unlikely that many would choose to give up the pursuit of a degree, choosing instead to take the well-worn path of traditional higher education. However, the Internet will definitely cause a paradigm shift in the way we view education over the course of the coming decade.
The Internet has largely affected the way people view the political system as a whole, in recent years. In the past, corruption or mistakes made by the government could be covered up relatively easily. Now, the Internet has increased transparency around the government.Using the internet, the people have the ability to scrutinise their every actions, resulting in increased openness and democratic accountability. Thegovernment can no longer do as they please, and smoke their way through with vague explanations. Taking a leaf out of the annals of history, this can be seen from the Malaysian Political Crisis of 1999. Even though the Malaysian government attempted to silence former deputy Premier, Anwar Ibrahim, thanks to the Internet, his message of reform was still spread in the country. Malaysians were also able to receive mostly unbiased news of the Anwar trial even though the government had control over most of the press, thanks to the internet. This shows how the people can view the true actions, and intentions, of the government through the use of the internet with increasing ease.
Indeed, the Internet, with its limitless potential in the foreseeable future, has opened new doors to different areas of society. With Bitcoin, a virtual currency that works as a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system that is not managed by a central authority and yet is accepted as payment by businesses and individuals globally, the reign of the Internet is far from over. In the coming years, the Internet will likely bring about even greater changes that will continue to alter our society on a global, national and individual level.