I Often ask Students this Internet-Related Question
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I often ask students, "in your perception, in which year was the beginning of widespread internet awareness and the beginnings of internet usage by the general public in the U.S.?" I ask primarily for three reasons: 1. I want them to have time perspective on this, 2. I want them to realize that they live in a very unique time in history in this regard, 3. it gives me a chance to talk with them about how much the internet changed (and is changing) science, education, and some of daily life.
The answers I receive from students are very interesting and range from the early 1800's to 2015. In this particular year that I have in mind, although only a small percentage of people were actually using email / internet, most were aware of its existence and knew what "email" was. That year was 1995.
While there were certainly very early adopters among the general public in the U.S., internet usage started to grow in the early nineties. In 1990, only 1% of U.S. adults had internet access. By 1995 that usage had grown to 10%, largely because of AOL sending their infamous "free trial CD" to practically every household in the U.S. By 1995, most Americans had heard of the internet and knew what email was. By the year 2000, over half of U.S. adults had internet access. In 2022, 93% of U.S. adults have internet access.
I asked the homeschooling moms on my email newsletter list this same question and received over 800 responses. The average of their responses was 1997. I also enjoyed reading lots of great stories on the beginnings of their use of email and the internet.
While the effect of the internet on society is a another topic (can of worms), I discuss with students how the internet has affected science. I also like to make them aware that today, we stand on the shoulders of scientists like Marie Curie, Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, Antoine Lavoisier, Gregor Mendel, etc. They didn't have so many of the advantages of today's scientists and yet did remarkable work that was the foundation of today's science. For one thing, I point out to them that they were often working alone, without input and collaboration from other scientists around the world and without the instant access to information that we have today because of the internet. It's a great lesson in perspective for students. I point out to them that the 1990's, just before they were born, marked a huge change in the world
- the beginning of the use of the internet.