Internet: 48 and Going Strong

By Dr Mansoor Sarwar

(Pak Destiny) Happy 48th birthday, Internet! Also known as the World Wide Web, the Net, and the Web, the Internet is the all-pervasive network of networks of computing devices in the world.

It was born on November 21, 1969 with two computers able to talk to each other. Today, with almost 3.89 billion of the over 7 billion world population having access to it, the Internet has changed the way we live just like.
It all started at 10:30pm on October 29, 1969 when Charles S. Kline, a student programmer at the University of California, sent the first message from an SDS Sigma 8 computer at university’s Boelter Hall to an SDS 940 computer in the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) using the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) of the US Department of Defense. The message text was “login”, but only letters ‘l’ and ‘o’ were transmitted before the system crashed. The first permanent link between these two computers was established on November 21, 1969. By December 5, 1969, two more computers were added to it, one each at UC Santa Barbra and University of Utah.
In 1989, Sir Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) proposed a set of rules for creating and using client and server software, called the Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP). He also developed the first web browser and web server in 1990 for the NeXT computer, and made them public in March 1991. He also created the first website on August 6, 1991 using HTTP.
Today, more than 52% of world population has access to the Internet: 88.1% in North America, 80.2% in Europe, 69.6% in Oceania/Australia, 62.4% in Latin America/Caribbean, 58.7% in Middle East, 46.7% in Asia, and 31.2% in Africa.
The number of Internet users worldwide has been increasing by one billion every five years since 2005. Whereas access to the Internet in North America has increased by 196.1% since 2000, it has increased by 8503.1%, 4374.3%, 2137.4%, and 1595.5% in Africa, Middle East, Latin America/Caribbean, and Asia, respectively.
Of all the users of the Internet, only 8.2% belong to North America and 49.7% belong to Asia. Among the countries with population of 35 million or more, Japan has the highest Internet penetration of 94%. More than 87.9% of 323 million people in the US have access to the Internet, and all of Iceland’s 334303 and Antarctica’s 2700 people have access to the Internet.
Over 53.2% of China’s 1.39 billion and over 34.4% of India’s 1.34 billion population can access the Internet. Among the 34 countries in Asia (excluding North Korea), Pakistan has the sixth-lowest Internet penetration with only 22.7% of its people having access to the Internet. Only Laos and Nepal (21.9%), Tajikistan (20.5), Turkmenistan (18%), Afghanistan (11.7%), and North Korea (0.1%) have lower Internet penetration than Pakistan. Of the 226 countries and territories of the world, Pakistan ranks at 184. Among the African countries, Kenya has the highest Internet penetration of 89.4%. All of the countries in Europe and North America have Internet penetration greater than 50%.
Our lifestyle, social behavior, and the world economy have become critically dependent on the Internet. The following statistics indicate the size of the Internet and our dependence on it: over 2.0 billion Facebook users, 1.32 billion WhatsApp users, over 558 million Google+ users, over 309 million Twitter and Pinterest users each, more than 1.28 billion websites, and around 14.3 trillion webpages. Here are some mind-boggling per second statistics indicating the extent of its use: 55 billion WhatsApp messages, over 2.6 billion emails, over 71480 videos viewed on Youtube, over 63500 Google searches, more than 7800 tweets, more than 2845 Skype calls, over 1300 posts on Tumblr, and over 800 photos uploaded on Instagram. The rate of traffic on the Internet is approximately 50544 Gigabytes, roughly equivalent to over 17 million pages of text, per second. To put it in perspective, the latest edition of Encyclopedia Britannica has 32640 pages. Thus, equivalent to the almost 524 Encyclopedia Britannica travel on the Internet every second!
Certainly, commerce on the Internet (e-commerce) is huge. Retail e-commerce has been increasing by over 22% per year for the past five years and is expected to be $2.29 trillion in 2017. US and China make up over 69% of this value. In China, 19% of all retail sales in 2016 were through the Internet. The global retail e-commerce is currently 10.1% of the global retail sales and is expected to be over 16% by 2021. The three e-commerce giants Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay have combined market cap of over $1057 billion, which is almost three times the GDP of Pakistan. The number of online shoppers is about 70% of the Internet users, mostly using smartphones. Combine that with the fact that the sale of smart phones has become more than four times the sale of computers tablets combined, and one can imagine the impact of the Internet on the future world economy.
Free access to top-quality massively open online courses (MOOCs) by some of the most eminent teachers and scholars from places like the MIT, Harvard, Berkeley, Stanford, and Cambridge would not be possible without the Internet. Certainly, there will be no Khan Academy. A 2016 survey of 25000 university going student from across the globe showed that 77.84% of respondents had taken online courses. Another 2017 survey has shown that over 29% of the over 20 million higher education students in the US had taken at least one online course. A 2016 survey showed almost the same statistics about the Canadian students. A recent study by two Harvard and Columbia scholars has shown that the e-learning market was worth $166.5 billion in 2016 and it was estimated to grow to $255 billion by 2017.
As is the case with all innovations of this magnitude, everything cannot be hunky-dory. Here is one perspective from an old friend and an MIT graduate, “Sometimes, it looks like a new form of bread-and-circuses has taken over to occupy our lives. Apart from commerce on the web, this harbinger of change has enslaved our free time into short attention span, inability to write a compete sentence, inability to trace a thought to its logical conclusion, etc. There are promises that have not transpired, both in the developed West, which have become police states, and in the East which have merely become tar, fodder for production and consumption.”
Here is how our social behavior has changed due to the Internet. According to a recent study in the US, family time has shrunk from five hours pre-Internet and pre-iPhone-like-screen days to historical low of less than an hour of our daily 24-hour routine. Phubbing has adversely affected our relations with family and friends, with shrinking social interaction even during our personal meetings.

The Internet has over 400,000 porno websites and over quarter of a billion people around the world access Internet porn through over 450 million monthly hits. Nearly 2.5 billion pornographic emails travel on the Internet every day and over 20% of all mobile Google searches are for pornography.
According to US Department of Justice, “Never before in the history of telecommunications media in the United States has so much indecent (and obscene) material been so easily accessible by so many minors in so many American homes with so few restrictions.” The annual productivity loss to companies in 2012 in the US alone was a staggering $16.9 Billion dollars. Its obvious negative impact on marriage, social behavior, and family life is almost immeasurable.
Pakistan’s total retail market is worth $40 billion. A year ago, the retail value of e-commerce in the country was estimated to be worth $60 million and it had been doubling every year for the previous few years. With the number of Internet, broadband, and smart phone users continuously on the rise, the e-commerce market in the country is expected to surpass $1 billion by 2020.
Of the over 3.6 million registered freelancers in the various disciplines in the world, over 176 thousand are from Pakistan. This makes us the fourth highest in numbers behind the US, India, and Philippines. We have the third largest contingent of IT freelancers (e-lancers), behind India and USA, bringing around $1 billion in foreign exchange. However, in terms of revenue, we are fourth in the region behind India, Philippines, and Bangladesh because most of our online IT workforce cannot bid for complex, high paying projects.
For our country to move forward and considerably increase its estimated $3 billion IT revenue that is mostly through export of IT products, services, and e-lancing, it needs to focus on increasing Internet penetration and enhancing the quality of education in the IT sector. We need to encourage self-employment of IT graduates through e-lancing or through creation of small companies with initiatives like Punjab’s e-Rozgaar, Plan9, and PlanX. Further, IT institutions should be funded for facilitating their students and graduates in this respect through on-campus e-lancing labs, centers for entrepreneurship, and technology parks.
Certainly, more local services too need to be brought to the Internet and key business processes in public and private entities must be automated in order to reap full benefits of the Internet and advances in IT. Pakistan’s teledensity, mostly through mobile phones, is around 70%. With smartphones costing one tenth of the minimum monthly wages in the country, IT revenue growing at 30-40% annually, and 4G technology in place, it is estimated that the IT revenue that is only 1.03% of country’s GDP can become about 5% with over 60% of its population using the Internet. In Pakistan, only 15% of the 20 million eligible youth has access to higher education. However, it can only happen through increase in literacy rate and cheaper Internet.
We like it or not, the globalized world centered on Internet-style connectivity is here to stay and grow for generations to come. Its impact on our lives will become even more profound with the growth of “Internet of Things” having all sorts of inter-connected smart devices around us. Experts predict that over 50 billion devices will use this technology by 2020. We need to prepare ourselves to not only reap greater benefits from this new world order but also contribute to its peaceful use by investing in education through on-campus and distance learning modes, financing IT human resource through modern curricula and training in contemporary technologies, continuous awareness about cyber security issues by seamlessly integrating it in the academic curricula from early years of education, preventing kids from using screens during their formative years, and making policies that facilitate achievement of these plans.

The author is principal of Punjab University College of Information Technology (PUCIT). He can be reached at [email protected]

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