Communities, in common perception, represent groups of individuals bound by a certain commonality, be it language, religion, race, culture, interests, geographical location or any of a myriad other things. While a discipline like sociology defines the concept of community in numerous ways, it by and large refers to a group of people who share certain fundamental characteristics and are in a position to interact with each other (Wenger, 1999).
Communities are generally taken to denote groups that are larger than families, (notwithstanding the existence of many extended families that can very easily be considered to be communities), and represent people who share certain social values, have a clearly determinable cohesion, and share a common geographical location (Wenger, 1999). The word is now also used to refer to much larger and geographically dispersed groups of people, for example, the Muslim or Christian communities, the global Diasporas of particular nations, national communities, and global communities (Wenger, 1999).
Whilst national communities have been instrumental in the creation of common purpose, national identity and pride, collective mobilization of community members during times of war and crisis, and collective struggles, (like those for independence in Asia and Africa after the end of the Second World War, and in Europe, in the wake of the dismantling of the Soviet Union), they are also instrumental in providing support, instilling collective values, and socialization at micro levels (Wenger, 1999).
School and college communities are known to have profound impact upon the development of attitudes and abilities of their members; the worldwide spread of terrorism on the other hand provides a striking example of the strength of communities in shaping the mental processes of their members and in influencing extreme actions (Wenger, 1999).
Recent decades have seen the emergence of globalization, a phenomenon that has arisen from the synergistic bonding of a number of factors, (namely rapid advances in communication technology, easier travel, dismantling of physical and trade barriers, economic liberalisation, and the proliferation of the internet), and has led to the creation of a global community, where its members recognize their existence as humans to be in many ways far more meaningful than members of particular races, religions, ethnicities, and cultures.
The evolution of this universal global community has been helped, more than anything else, by the formation of the global internet community, a mammoth group of men, women, and children, who stay in different parts of the globe, belong to different countries, have different political, religious, and cultural affiliations, and are yet united in their usage of the internet and the Worldwide Web. Research Objective This research study aims to investigate and analyse the origin, growth, and the different features of this global internet community, possibly the most important social, political, and economic development of modern times.
2. Research Methodology Researching a phenomenon like the topic of this paper is constrained by the enormous amount of material that is available on the issue, mostly on the internet, but also in hard form. Choosing the best, most reliable and most authentic information sources constituted the most difficult component of this assignment. With thousands of publications expounding on various facets of the global internet community ,choosing appropriate information sources, all of which have been listed in the references at the end of the paper, took time and effort.
While substantial effort has been put into the process, the chances of relevant information being left out is considerable, a fact that may affect the validity of the findings and analysis of this report. Research Growth of Internet and World Wide Web (WWW) The growth of the internet and the WWW is an amazing story of visionary thinking and technological progress that began in the early 1960s in the domain of the US Army’s research activities and then evolved and spread through the contributions of thousands of men and women.
First visualised by JCR Licklider of the MIT in 1962 as a global network of computers that would share information on research and development in areas of science and defence, early impetuses to the growth of computer networking were provided by Leonard Kleinrock (the developer of the theory of packet switching) and Lawrence Roberts of MIT, who developed the plan for the ARPANET, the predecessor of today’s internet (Thierer & Crew, 2003) .
Whilst these people, and many like them pioneered the concept of information sharing through computers, the actual evolution of the internet was a complex and tortuous process that took more than 30 years to evolve to its present form when Microsoft consolidated its entry into the browser, server, and Internet Service Provider market, and with the release of Windows 98 completed the shift to a commercially based Internet (Thierer & Crew, 2003). The timeline provided below details, with as much brevity as possible, the significant nodes in the evolution of the Internet from the time it was conceived to the introduction of Windows 98.
• 1962: RAND Paul Baran, of the RAND Corporation (a government agency), was commissioned by the U. S. Air Force to do a study on how it could maintain its command and control over its missiles and bombers, after a nuclear attack. This was to be a military research network that could survive a nuclear strike; Baran’s final proposal was a packet switched network. • 1968: ARPA awarded the ARPANET contract to BBN. The physical network was constructed in 1969, linking four nodes, e. g.
University of California at Los Angeles, SRI (in Stanford), University of California at Santa Barbara, and University of Utah. • 1972: The first e-mail program was created by Ray Tomlinson of BBN. • 1973: Development began on the protocol later to be called TCP/IP; this new protocol was to allow diverse computer networks to interconnect and communicate with each other. • 1974: First Use of term Internet by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. • 1976: Dr. Robert M. Metcalfe develops Ethernet, which allowed coaxial cable to move data extremely fast.
• 1979: ENET (the decentralized news group network) was created by Steve Bellovin, a graduate student at University of North Carolina, and programmers Tom Truscott and Jim Ellis. • 1981: National Science Foundation created backbone called CSNET 56 Kbps network for institutions without access to ARPANET. Vinton Cerf proposed a plan for an inter-network connection between CSNET and the ARPANET • 1983: Internet Activities Board (IAB) was created in 1983. On January 1st, every machine connected to ARPANET had to use TCP/IP. TCP/IP became the core Internet protocol and replaced NCP entirely.
The University of Wisconsin created Domain Name System (DNS). This allowed packets to be directed to a domain name, which would be translated by the server database into the corresponding IP number. • 1986: The Internet Engineering Task Force or IETF was created to serve as a forum for technical coordination by contractors for DARPA working on ARPANET, US Defense Data Network (DDN), and the Internet core gateway system. • 1988: Soon after the completion of the T1 NSFNET backbone, traffic increased so quickly that plans immediately began on upgrading the network again
• 1992: Internet Society is chartered. World-Wide Web released by CERN. NSFNET backbone upgraded to T3 (44. 736Mbps) • 1993: InterNIC created by NSF to provide specific Internet services: directory and database services (by AT&T), registration services (by Network Solutions Inc. ), and information services (by General Atomics/CERFnet) (Thierer & Crew, 2003). Out of the many notable aspects of the Internet, none has captivated the imagination of the public and led to the astonishing growth of the net as much as the World Wide Web.
A process of putting and locating interactive multimedia information, the WWW is truly an information route of still unimaginable dimensions, allowing global users to provide and source a phenomenal variety of information with rapidity, convenience and utmost ease (Crafton, 2002) . First conceptualised by the scientist Vannevar Bush in 1945 in an essay entitled “As we may think” in the Atlantic Monthly, as a colossal information index that could be searched, accessed, and obtained by all people on a global basis, Bush’s proposed system was mechanical in its operation and never got off the ground (Crafton, 2002).
His idea was to however have a profound effect on the many who later worked together to build up the Internet and the WWW (Crafton, 2002). The actual development of the web, when it happened a couple of decades later, occurred at the instance of physicists who wished to share their research data, the initial impetus being provided by the development of a system called the Xanadu by Ted Nelson in the early years of the 1960s (Crafton, 2002).
Formally launched in 1992 and aided by the development of the Mosaic browser, a software application that displayed not just the text of a Web document, but enabled embedding of graphic elements, the web’s growth as a global convenience arises because of the following features: • Hyper-text and Multimedia • Open standards that allow Web pages to be viewed through any computer with an Internet connection and a Web browser. • The ability to make software and data files available for downloading.
• Ease of use; all that is needed to access information is the pointing of a cursor and a click of the mouse. The web offers humans the world over conveniences that were out of the realm of practical thought even a couple of decades ago. It makes publishing easy and economical for individuals or organizations needing and wishing to distribute information. Information that can be reviewed and revised whenever needed and can yet reach millions of viewers can be easily put onto the web (Thierer & Crew, 2003).
Among other things it enables people to do is (a) publish and make frequent updates to on-line documents, and receive direct feedback on those documents via E-mail, (b) connect with a diverse, global audience, (c) keep abreast of the latest news and information on a global basis often before such news appears in conventional media, (d) reference other web resources easily via hypertext, (d) access otherwise obscure information not readily available in other media, and (e) download useful software at little or no cost (Thierer & Crew, 2003). Establishment of the Global Internet Community
The internet has today become a phenomenon that is clearly difficult to describe, a web of thousands of thousands of interconnected broad and narrow band, telephone, satellite and wireless networks constructed on existing and planned communication technology. This infrastructure is more akin to a network of networks, separate islands of computer, telephone and cable resources, into a seamless and ever growing web. It connects businesses, governments, institutions and individuals to a broad spread of information based services, ranging from entertainment, education and culture to data banks, cyberspace, commerce, banking and other services.
In most, if not all developed countries, the Internet has led to a merging of communication technologies. Delivered by telephones, power lines, cable connections and satellites internet facilities for Multimedia computer workstations, including CD Rom and television capabilities for movie, music and film playing, electronic mail, web applications, and long (and short) distance telephony are commonly present. The internet enables its users to transfer information with tremendous rapidity through a number of channels like electronic mail, newsgroups, news letters, video and graphics with the hep of a web browser.
People can join online chat forums and play games like chess and bridge with other like minded individuals and groups, in geographically distant locations. Such phenomena have led to the conceptualization of cyberspace, a parallel universe sustained by the world’s computer and communication technologies and accessed by a computer, cable or modem linked into the system. The residents of this artificial domain constitute the global internet community (Gattiker, 2001). The Internet, in less than a decade, has become a global phenomenon, transforming the way people conduct business, interact, and learn.
Whilst fewer than 10 million people used the net in 1995, the figure today is close to a billion. This growing medium provides limitless possibilities to bring people together from across the world, enhancing opportunities in education, health care, commerce, and entertainment. It has evolved from being a physical network to a network of people (Gattiker, 2001). It connects people together through e-mail and chat rooms, allows schoolchildren from around the globe to learn in an exciting environment, is crucial to the development of telemedicine, and has produced a booming economy known as e-commerce.
Educational and Research Benefits The astonishing furtherance of global education and research is possibly the most important benefit to come out of the establishment of the global internet community. “The Human Genome Project, completed in 2003, was a 13-year, international, interdisciplinary effort to map the human genetic code. But the work is just beginning; the tremendous amounts of data posted online are being used as the starting point for other projects, just as organizers of the Human Genome Project intended.
“To my mind, this has been one of the most extensive opportunities for education in biology that there has ever been,” said Dan Drell, biologist program manager with the U. S. Department of Energy, who worked on the Human Genome Project and now works on the Microbial Genome Project. ” (Smydo, 2007) With teachers, students, parents, schools, colleges and universities being able to come together across distance and time, learning has become far more accessible because of the removal of barriers of space, time and even money. Professors and teachers can now reach out to students across the world without moving from their locations.
High school students can enroll in externally developed online high school courses, which might be impossible locally due to limited budget, small enrollments, lack of facilities, or lack of qualified teachers. Even in traditional classrooms, the Web can be used to consult scientists, writers and other experts or to obtain learning materials at little cost. Students are able to participate in discussions with hundreds of students and many experts in the field from around the world and also have the opportunity to work in smaller study groups to produce collaborative research reports (Smydo, 2007).
Instruction has become time-independent and location-independent, teachers and students being able to reach each other whenever and wherever they find it convenient. In fact specialist courses which can no longer be supported by drawing on the student base in the traditional university catchment area can now be offered economically world wide (Gattiker, 2001). Members of the community have put a vast new array of learning opportunities on the internet to help students to improve their learning and contribute more effectively in today’s knowledge based global economy.
Natural resources and location have become less important in comparison with critical thinking, problem solving, written communication, and collaborative skills. Information is instantly available; it is current and worldwide in scope, and presented in a motivating format (Gattiker, 2001). Students can explore various types of information, judge their authenticity, compare different viewpoints, analyze and synthesize information, and construct their own knowledge (Gattiker, 2001). The global internet community has been causal in increasing socially relevant development and student empowerment.
“University of Pittsburgh epidemiologist Ron LaPorte said humanity benefits when the world’s leading researchers share information about disease prevention. He put that theory into practice seven years ago by creating Supercourse, an online library of 3,300 lectures in epidemiology, cancer, diabetes and other diseases. The lectures, accessible for free, were culled from Nobel Prize winners, professors and government researchers in 175 countries. It’s one example of the global, interdisciplinary learning fostered by the Internet.
In field after field, the Internet is breaking down classroom walls and giving students and researchers’ unparalleled access to data and one another” (Smydo, 2007) Medicine & Health Benefits An enormous medical community has grown to be an integral part of the global internet community, which in turn has modified the traditional doctor-patient relationship in a number of significant ways. Even until a few years ago, doctors had complete proprietary right over knowledge relating to matters of health and disease, divulged little information to their patients and were rarely questioned by them.
The availability of medical information on the net along with columns by doctors, websites dedicated to health, and information made available by teaching hospitals and universities has increasingly empowered people requiring medical help and attention to take better care of their health and cross check the treatment provided by their doctors (Chen & Others, 2007). Telemedicine or online consultation attracts many people who already spend much of their time online. Furthermore, as a result of the global nature of the Internet, people can, for a fee, consult a doctor online who is based in another country (Gattiker, 2001).
Telemedicine over the Internet was practiced in Mt. Everest, demonstrating the reach of the global internet network and the possibility of utilizing the latest healthcare telecommunications tools in the most extreme of settings (Gattiker, 2001). Online consultation services have also developed for doctors. For example a general practitioner faced with interpreting a difficult electrocardiogram can now obtain an instant diagnosis from a cardiology online service by emailing a copy of the electrocardiogram (Chen & Others, 2007). The same is true for the evaluation of X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.
These types of service are particularly attractive to doctors working in remote areas. Doctors also rely more and more on the Internet for researching topics and for personal continuing education, as well as for sharing information with each other. All leading medical journals are now available online. Full journal access usually requires a fee which is generally lower than for a regular (hard copy) subscription, with the additional advantage of giving access to back issues. (Slattery, 2008) Telemedicine, a process created by the global internet community allows for the following:
“(a) provisioning of efficient and convenient methods for patients and doctors to communicate with each other and allows patients to send their medical data/image through the Internet, creation of circumstance for “Case Diagnosis” and “Case Consultation” between patients and doctors in remote locations, (c) building of electronic information systems that provide relatively easy and fast access to large databases and permit the application of powerful statistical methods for analyzing and displaying such data, (d) formulating strategies for proving information to patients, clinicians, and others in ways that promote informed decisions and stimulate desired changes in behaviors and outcomes, (d) easier access to more information about patient than users request or need, (e) automatic payment and (f) provisioning of a secure web payment system and authentication procedures to ensure that messages are received from the stated source exactly as they were sent” (Chen & others, 2001) Social Movements The internet has in the last decade, become a rallying point for social and political movements. “This is demonstrated in its key role in the mobilization of solidarity actions around the globe, including international days of protest.
The anti-war demonstrations that took place during the weekend of February 14-16, 2003 are an example of a global movement in which people from over 60 countries took part. The magnitude and rapid development of this movement has been attributed to the Internet because it was used to disseminate information widely and quickly in order to coordinate global protest action. ” (Petit, 2004) Internet researchers state that Internet users possess greater political awareness and interest than others and are more likely to vote than the general public. Social movement activists have repeatedly adopted ICT technologies and the internet for awakening community response and support, ever since the anti-globalization protests in Seattle in 1999.
The Internet, with its many communication features affords a tremendously powerful tool to connect in the global internet community and offers a revolutionary potential for social movements to go online and circumvent the “official” messages of political and commercial organisations and the traditional media, by speaking directly to the citizens of the world. The use of electronic mail (e-mail), mailing lists, websites, electronic forums and other online applications provide powerful media tools for co-ordinating the activity of often physically dispersed movement actors and are now being regularly used by social activists. Community Bonding Any discussion on community bonding needs to essentially consider the overwhelming size of the internet community and its other dimensions.
Communities, as stated earlier represent a group of individuals with a commonality of features, issues, interests, or even problems, who interact with each other in a determined setting (Gattiker, 2001). With trillions of words, billion of documents and files, tens of millions of computers, and a billion actual users scattered across the world, it is difficult to associate such figures with a community, especially in the absence of any specific setting (Gattiker, 2001). Whilst such differences should theoretically make the establishment of internet communities difficult, nothing could be further from the truth. The greatest benefit of Internet communities is the ease with which a person can communicate with a broad range of people.
By drastically increasing the number of people an individual can come in contact with, the Internet exposes an individual to a diverse array of people, creating an exciting environment in which to make acquaintances. It is easy to use and available all the time. The key difference between virtual and actual communities is that on-line, contact with relative strangers is a social norm. By creating a situation in which humans can communicate with the comfort associated with the short, informal discussions characteristic of chat rooms and without the usual restraints of social norms, on-line communities are naturally exciting and stimulating (Gattiker, 2001).
On line communities offer an easy way for like minded people to interact with each other, and that too at very low risk. With the existing mode of communication in on-line settings being informal and consisting of numerous short exchanges and free of compulsion and actual social presence, relationships are built up over time and tend to be stable and long lasting. Whilst some danger does exist in this sort of relationship building from online voyeurs and eavesdroppers who lurk in chat rooms, the inherent anonymity of the participants in such interaction goes a long way in ensuring the individual safety of members of the global community (Gattiker, 2001).
Again most Internet communities have rules of conduct, standards, and boundaries, which are elaborated in documents known as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) or are provided online after people join such communities. The absence of verbal or non-verbal cues make all communication text dependent and make people take care in communicating with each other (Crafton, 2002). Crime and Terrorism on the Internet The enormous size and numerous dimensions of the Internet community also unfortunately make it a haven for criminals and fanatics, who use its complex technology and its facelessness to engage in cyber fraud, cyber crime, money laundering and facilitating terrorism.
“For several years, groups including al-Qaeda have used cyberspace for communications, recruiting and propaganda. Now they’ve branched into other areas. Credit card numbers are often swiped through hacking attacks and phishing, fraudulent e-mails that trick consumers into surrendering personal information” (Is internet terrorism, really organised crime, 2007) Whilst, members of the global internet community, governments, and international law enforcement agencies are constantly working towards controlling and eliminating such problems much still needs to be done and the global community needs to work together to maintain constant pressure on such perpetrators. 3. Conclusions
The global Internet community continues to grow at an astonishing speed. During the last ten years, i. e. from 1997 to 2007, the community has grown from 70 million to 1245 millions. In this short period, global community has evolved into a very powerful platform that has changed the way individual, groups, and organizations communicate, work, research, and engage in everyday business. The internet has today become a network of millions of people, rather than a network of systems; its global community is possibly the most potent of global non governmental forces and has over the years grown out of its initial dominance by the United States and the English speaking world.
The continuing growth of segments like MySpace, YouTube, MSN Groups, and Blogger is energizing the growth and empowerment of the community. The global internet community, as the most vital part of the internet has enormous responsibilities and can be an effective force in the achievement of Millennium Development Goals in the areas of poverty reduction, education and health care, the environment and gender equality. With a growing global consensus on the ever growing threat posed by global warming, the internet community, which includes many innovative people and is used to rapid change, can provide effective leadership to address the issue effectively.
“The bottom line is that the future Internet represents an incredible leadership opportunity for Internet researchers and corporations to find new solutions and create new business opportunities in terms of reducing global warming, one of the greatest challenges facing this country, if not this planet” (Arnaud, 2008). The evolution of the internet has led to it progressively incorporating functions that have for long been regulated both nationally and globally; the global community needs to work together on eliminating its abuse by various user segments and focusing on its potential for development and progress. References Arnaud, B, (2008), The internet’s fight against global warming, Internet evolution, www. internetevolution. com/author. asp? section_id=506&doc_id=140273 Chen, Z. Yu, X & Feng, D, (2006), Telemedicine System over the Internet, CRPIT, Retrieved November 19, 2008 from crpit.
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