With respect to William Shakespeare, is the World Wide Web your oyster? Maybe—but as with most things in life, there are caveats.
Through browsers and web applications, the web—aka the Internet—is an infinitely variable platform that we, as users, can customize to enrich our lives.
We use the web both to save time and to kill time—banking, shopping, getting the news, socializing with friends and colleagues, consuming various forms of entertainment, playing games, and getting work done.
We take for granted how accessible and available the web is to us, and we take huge advantage of this. We educate ourselves, keep up with the news, keep in touch with family and friends, pursue new interests, donate to causes and disaster relief, get directions, search for good restaurants, read product and movie reviews, evaluate contractors and manufacturers, and so much more.
We bend the web to our will, saving bookmarks, creating online identities, downloading music, books, movies, and applications, allowing or disallowing cookies from various websites, and backing up our data to the cloud. We follow an online routine that is uniquely our own.
For many of us, the online part of our lives is escalating. According to government surveys, people in the U.S. spend approximately 90 minutes a day online with leisure activities. If you add in television viewing, which more and more is becoming a web-based activity (think Netflix), the statistic goes up to 3.5 hours a day.
Whatever time we spend online now, it’s likely to increase as more activities become web-enabled. Existing capabilities are continually enhanced, and new ones continue to be offered. Sites and applications become ever more appealing, easier to access, and simpler to use.
New start-ups and established companies deliver web applications and services that stretch the boundaries and create new paradigms—new ways to exploit the web. Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, iCloud, Google+, Dropbox, Creative Cloud, Tumblr, FaceTime, YouTube, and Twitter are examples that have emerged and captured our collective imaginations.
The Internet of Things
And now, a number of enterprises are beginning to offer products that automate the home, monitor health and fitness, even posture, and enable us to monitor and control it all through web portals. More and more devices are becoming web-enabled: thermostats, smoke and air quality monitors, watches, glasses, even stoves and refrigerators.
And smartphones and tablets are becoming the command centers for our lives. Wearables like smart watches, Google Glass, and smart tiles are starting to emerge, all of which will be connected to the grid. The potential benefits for health and wellness tracking devices are significant.
We can choose to be overwhelmed by where technology is taking us—or embrace it.
Open or closed?
In a previous post, we talked about the third platform—an entirely web-enabled future, and how a good implementation would provide enormous benefits, and a bad implementation could result in terrible consequences.
Estimates are that at least two-thirds of the world is still not connected to the web. Is this possible? The implications of this statistic for both the haves and the have-nots are enormous.
And there are disturbing trends. Extremely powerful commercial entities are dominating the web. Malware, identity theft, and cybercrime are prevalent. Revelations of NSA spying are unbelievable (almost) and extremely disturbing.
The web is our oyster? With all this cognitive dissonance?
Despite everything, we can’t deny that the Internet is useful, even inescapable. There’s simply no alternative, it sometime seems.
It’s important, therefore, to stay alert and protect ourselves online. Unless you’re doing really bad things, you shouldn’t worry too much about the NSA. If they want to track you, they will track you, but you can take action if it’s important enough to you.
At the very least, there are a number of things you can and should do as you navigate the web.
- Make sure your routers, computers, and devices have the latest security updates, and use strong passwords. Use different passwords for each site you log in to.
- Never log on to financial or other sensitive sites, or make online purchases, from public networks (e.g., Starbucks).
- Be careful about the information you share on social networks and with whom you share it.
- Never send sensitive personally identifiable information or credit card numbers through e-mail or by text. If you must communicate such information, the phone is safer.
- If you receive e-mail, never click on a link inside it. View the real link first if you can, and make sure it is legitimate before clicking on it.
Educate yourself about online security, and stay up to date. New exploits are being found all the time, but there are good guys out there who are trying to plug these holes, and it’s usually through software updates that are released regularly.
A dash of perspective
There’s no escaping the fact that the web has become an indispensable part of our everyday lives. On the train, at the airport, in coffee shops—wherever we go—we see people with their heads buried in their smartphones, tablets, and laptops. At work, virtually every job requires some online activity.
It’s important, however, to go off the grid regularly and with purpose. Get offline. Participate in meaningful—or frivolous—activities with other people. It keeps you in touch with your humanity, and reminds you of what really matters: family, friends, hearth and home.