Term Paper: Internet Accessibility

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Internet Accessibility

Some technological change comes about because of the existence and interaction of systems. Rudi Volti cites the computer industry as illustrating the need for technology to develop "because of the availability of complementary technological developments that allow the resolution of fundamental problems" (Volti 36). The idea for an analytical engine dates back to the 1820s and Charles Babbage, but the system developed by Babbage was exceedingly complex and could not attain the speed and accuracy we can today. Babbage in his time lacked the necessary complementary technological developments to make his system work. That situation changed in the twentieth century as mathematicians and engineers developed the necessary systems that could store and retrieve information. The computer developed over the past fifty years as new developments indicated changes in structure and operation, and the computer has become one of the most pervasive and vital technologies in the world today, affecting many other technologies and products. Computers have been made smaller and more powerful. These advances have been made by a number of new and developing companies, primarily those in the Silicon Valley near San Francisco. These companies are in fierce competition for new designs, more powerful hardware, more versatile computer chips, and more inventive software. The underlying principles of computers are well understood, and every computer thus shares certain characteristics. The period from 1970 to the present is referred to as the fourth generation of computing, the period dominated by the microchip on which can replace over 15,000 circuit elements. In 1971, Intel Corporation introduced the first microprocessor chip, which contained all the major logic circuitry of a computer on one chip. The 1977 the personal computer was becoming established. Microcomputers began to attract real business in 1979. Creative developments in software design fueled the sale of hardware, and through the 1980s the microcomputer eclipsed the mainframe and mini-computer markets (Dologite 375-376).

Following the development of the computer, means of connecting computers together were developed. The Internet started as a loosely-unified system used by academics, scientists, and the military. The growth of the Internet for the public at large can be traced to the development of the personal computer (PC), introduced in 1981. Today there are over 350 million PC's worldwide, and it is rapidly becoming the primary communications tool for many ("The Business Benefits of the Internet" B10-11). The Internet was developed by the government as Arpanet as a means of communication within the scientific community, and it operates by providing links between computers in a loose fashion so that the computers of any university or scientific facility could communicate with any other. The Internet grew until it included a wide variety of servers linked to the larger network. The World Wide Web is a specific area of the Internet that has the capacity to transmit multimedia rather than merely text, meaning pictures, sound, and even video along with text. Growth of the Web itself has been rapid, and this has meant a tangle of web pages, hotlinks, and new sites. Explorers on the Internet often get lost. As of January 1, 1996 the World Wide Web had some 200,000 sites, or Web servers, offering close to 20,000,000 pages of information (Lorick 48-50).

The Internet allows PC users to connect to a variety of computer links around the world and to download information from those sites. E-mail is another of the services for which the Internet serves an important function, allowing instant communication between offices and individuals. Business executives value PC connectivity, which may be internal, linking PC's in different parts of the office or in different offices of the same company, and external, such as linking the PC to the Internet and accessing databases and other services. Connectivity also allows small- to mid-sized companies to have the same market presence and worldwide name recognition on the Internet as a Fortune 1500 company:

What this might mean from a strategic and competitive positioning perspective is that small businesses are more likely to benefit from these enabling communication technologies; one reason is their ability to make operational decisions better and faster than larger, bureaucratic corporations ("The Business Benefits of the Internet" B10).

Companies with Internet access can create their own Web pages to provide information to clients, and the Internet can be a low-cost method to enhance and speed up communications between suppliers, prospects, and a company's sales force. Small businesses may also find it advantageous to use Intranets rather than the Internet itself, with an Intranet being a means of connecting the PC's and different offices of a single company. The technology is familiar to many because it mirrors the world wide web. It is a more user-friendly system than the Internet and makes it easier for older employees who resist technological change to learn and accept precisely because they do not have to learn that much about computing and can access information with a point-and-click method. Firms have come into being to help small businesses learn about the Internet and to train employees in its use. Small companies link to Internet Service Providers, which come in all shapes and sizes. Some develop Web Sites. some host Web Sites, and some do both.

Another use for the Internet is educational, and many sites were developed by academics before the PC was so widespread. Students use the Internet to access information in various databanks. Many colleges have their own Web sites serving as a central information bank for students and the school. Some systems link students to various academic departments (Cline 57-59).

The Internet provides a number of powerful functions. The first is communication, and e-mail allows the user to send messages to any other user. It is cheaper than regular mail and virtually instantaneous. File transfer is another form of communication enabled by the Internet and which can be effected in a number of ways -- via e-mail, the World Wide Web, and File Transfer Protocol (FTP).Information can be accessed from databases around the world (Lorick 48-50).

There are certain disadvantages to the growing use of the Internet as well. The computer enables the employee to manipulate this data and crunch numbers at a much more rapid pace than was ever possible before, and through the intranet the data gathered, shaped, and manipulated by one department can be of immediate use to every other department without the need for repeating the same effort. Any such technology can be seductive so that a company may believe it is accomplishing more by storing and accessing this data than it actually is. There is a certain degree of skill necessary to make full use of both. In addition, one office may find the system easier to use than others, which would create a competitive disadvantage in that one office that will become more apparent over time.

The level of use increases all the time, but according to the most recent statistics, Internet use in the United States continues to climb, showing the following characteristics:

Over 83 million adults, or 40 per cent of the U.S. population over 16, access the Internet, up from 66 million in 1998.

Of these users, 3.7 million use a handheld computer and 3.1 million use a television set-top box or WebTV.

Internet users now spend more time online, averaging 12.1 hours per week compared to 10.9 hours per week in 1998.

The most popular online activities include sending and receiving e-mail, obtaining information about a hobby, general news, or information for business ("Internet Use [U.S.]").

The issue is not simply how many people are using the Internet, but how many are not and why they are not.

Accessibility

Much of the promise of the information superhighway has not yet arrived for a number of reasons. For one thing, widespread as the PC is, there are segments of society that do not have access to the computer and so to the Internet, and the distance between the haves and have-nots is likely to increase as the Internet becomes more vitally important. The computer can allow the student and the businessman to access a wide variety of information, but how that information is used depends on the individual user and so may or may not prove of benefit. The cost of joining the newly-wired world may be high, but the cost of staying on the sidelines would be even greater. The new technologies can make life easier and expand our horizons if we use them properly and learn their capabilities.

However, before the benefits of the Internet and associated technologies can be realized, the individual must have access to the necessary computer technology and to a connection to the Internet. Many predictions have been made concerning the coming Information Superhighway. The proposed information superhighway involves a certain vision of how electronic communications will be developed and used in the future:

The vision is simple: and unprecedented nationwide?

and, eventually, worldwide?

electronic communications network that connects everyone to everyone else and provides just about any sort of electronic communication… [END OF PREVIEW]

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