This list of communication technology research paper topics provides the list of 10 potential topics for research papers and an overview article on the history of communications technology.
1. Automatic Telephony Systems
Fundamental to the expansion of telephone service was the widespread use of automatic telephone switches. Initial telephone service sought to connect every telephone directly with every other instrument in the same market. Soon manual switchboards were installed for more efficient operation. As more telephones entered service, switchboards became larger and more operators were required. Replacing often-slow manual operators, automatic devices were electromechanical for most of the first century of telephone usage, slowly being replaced by more efficient electronic (and eventually digital) systems.
To the many technological inventions of the nineteenth century that improved communications, such as the telegraph and the telephone, the twentieth century added motion pictures, radio, television, and the Internet. Most of the products created for improving communication in the nineteenth century improved communication between individuals. During the twentieth century, new technologies added ways for groups or organizations to communicate to other groups, marking the birth of mass communications. These new media would have profound effects on entertainment, how people received news, and politics. See the article below for the history and overview of communications technology.
3. Digital Telephony
Digital telephony is the digital transmission of voice over a communications network. This technology entails digital encoding of voice and digital transmission with regenerating repeaters, switches, and handsets. Using digitally enabled multiplexing, voice is integrated with computer data and digitized images, video, and other information in current telephone and computer networks. Digital telephony has rapidly replaced analog telephony due to many factors: VSLI technology provides lower costs; discrete values sampled by receivers and regenerating repeaters enable recovery from most transmission noise; digital methods of multiplexing, such as time division multiplexing (TDM) and code division multiple access (CDMA), afford higher throughput. As VoIP, the PSTN, and satellite telephony continue to develop, will packet switching and circuit switching continue to coexist and will a single technology dominate in digital telephony?
4. Electronic Communications
The development of digital computing and communication technology in the 1940s and 1950s was largely driven by Cold War military needs in the midst of closed-world politics. Extensive funding was provided for large-scale research and development projects during this period by the U.S. military. The origins of the communication of digital information can be attributed to the Whirlwind computer, which was developed under these conditions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston. This was a powerful general-purpose digital computer orientated toward real-time control and flight simulation. However, it eventually found use as the control computer in the semiautomatic ground environment (SAGE) air defense system. SAGE connected remote early-warning radar stations in the far reaches of the Arctic with control centers in the heartland to automatically direct fighter aircraft to intercept the perceived onslaught of Soviet bombers carrying doomsday nuclear arsenals. A means had to be invented to communicate digital information over long distances between the radar stations and the SAGE control centers, and this resulted in the techniques for the long-distance communication of digital data being developed. This is the origin of the modem (as it later became known) and the system became operational in 1952. The name is derived from the process of the modulation and demodulation, whereby a waveform of digital data (ones and zeros) are superimposed onto a sinusoidal carrier wave, since the square waveform of digital data cannot be sent over distances. This information is then extracted with the process of demodulation on the receiver side. It should also be noted that many other key computing technological developments resulted from the SAGE project, such as video displays, magnetic core memory, and networking among others. This technology diffused into civilian use with the SABRE airlines reservation system built by IBM for American Airlines in 1964, which inherited a lot of technological developments from SAGE. The system used modems to transmit data signals over ordinary analog telephone channels and was an early example of the general trend of the diffusion of military-sponsored computing technology into broader society.
5. Fax Machine
Fax, or facsimile, technology refers to the concept of replicating printed documents across long distances and dates back to the nineteenth century, along with the advent of the telegraph. Embracing the emerging electromechanical technology of the time, several devices were developed; however, diffusion was limited due to the elaborate and intricate mechanism required as well as interoperability between disparate devices. Among the first on record was Alexander Bain’s ‘‘chemical telegraph,’’ patented in America in 1843. The device used a metallic contact that sensed the raised text, which triggered the flow of electric current. In 1847 Frederick Bakewell invented the ‘‘copying telegraph,’’ which introduced the concept of scanning the source document line by line. Both systems required pendulums and electromagnets for synchronization. However, fierce competition with Samuel Morse over long-distance telegraph lines led to legal disputes and Bain’s patent was declared invalid. Although the facsimile technology did not proliferate along with the telegraph, the concept of facsimile transmission did, and isolated systems continued to emerge wherever telegraphic networks were set up. A successful system was demonstrated in France in 1862 by Abbe Casselli, and a network of commercial stations was established. In America, Elisha Gray developed a system comprised of rheostats and electromagnets. Despite some successes, the largely mechanical technology was cumbersome, and lack of international interoperability and slowness of the system compared to Morse’s telegraph prevented commercial success and widespread proliferation.
6. Long Distance Telephony
Originally a means of communication suited only for small or medium distances, from about 1920, cable and wire telephony—soon to be supplemented by radio telephony—began to conquer the longer distances as well. Advances in telephone telephony, such as the post-World War II transoceanic cables, became a key factor in the trend towards the global information society. Much of the progress was based in new scientific knowledge or transformation of such knowledge into technological methods and artifacts. During the last three decades of the 20th century, an increasing part of intercontinental telephony was transmitted wirelessly through satellites rather than through cables. Many experts believe that future long-distance communications will rely on a mixture of optical-fiber cables and satellites, with a major part of the telephone traffic going through the satellite service.
7. Mobile (Cell) Telephones
In the last two decades of the twentieth century, mobile or cell phones developed from a minority communication tool, characterized by its prevalence in the 1980s among young professionals, to a pervasive cultural object. In many developed countries, more than three quarters of the population owned a cell phone by the end of the century. Cell phone technology is a highly evolved form of the personal radio systems used by truck drivers (citizens band, or CB, radio) and police forces in which receiver/transmitter units communicate with one another or a base antenna. Such systems work adequately over short distances with a low volume of traffic but cannot be expanded to cope with mass communication due to the limited space (bandwidth) available in the electromagnetic spectrum. Transmitting and receiving on one frequency, they allow for talking or listening but not both simultaneously. For mobile radio systems to make the step up to effective telephony, a large number of two-way conversations needed to be accommodated, requiring a duplex channel (two separate frequencies, taking up double the bandwidth). In order to establish national mobile phone networks without limiting capacity or the range of travel of handsets, a number of technological improvements had to occur.
8. Radio-Frequency Electronics
Radio was originally conceived as a means for interpersonal communications, either person-to-person, or person-to-people, using analog waveforms containing either Morse code or actual sound. The use of radio frequencies (RF) designed to carry digital data in the form of binary code rather than voice and to replace physical wired connections between devices began in the 1970s, but the technology was not commercialized until the 1990s through digital cellular phone networks known as personal communications services (PCS) and an emerging group of wireless data network technologies just reaching commercial viability. The first of these is a so-called wireless personal area network (WPAN) technology known as Bluetooth. There are also two wireless local area networks (WLANs), generally grouped under the name Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity): (1) Wi-Fi, also known by its Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) designation 802.11b, and (2) Wi-Fi5 (802.11a).
Although the concept of wireless data networks is fairly new, the basic technology was created during World War II by two unlikely ‘‘scientists’’: Austrian-born actress Hedy Lamarr and orchestra leader George Antheil. Their U.S. patent described frequency-hopping, radio-controlled torpedoes that could not be jammed by the Nazis.
9. Satellite Communications
Arthur C. Clarke, a science-fiction writer and an early member of the British Interplanetary Society, is credited as first stating the theoretical possibility of satellite communications. The February 1945 issue of the British technical journal Wireless World included a letter from Clarke under the title ‘‘V-2 for Ionospheric Research’’ in which he explained that three artificial satellites positioned 120 degrees apart in geosynchronous orbit could provide television and microwave coverage to the entire planet. Three months later, he privately circulated six typewritten copies of a paper titled ‘‘The Space Station: Its Radio Applications.’’ A refined version, where Clarke gave a detailed, technical analysis of the orbital geometry and communications links, appeared under the title ‘‘Extra-Terrestrial Relays’’ in the October 1945 issue of Wireless World. Clark, however, acknowledged that the forerunner of the concept came from Hermann Potocnik, whose 1929 book Das Problem der Befahrung des Weltraums [The Problem of Space Travel ], published under the pseudonym Noordung, described ‘‘stationary circling.’’
The USSR’s launch in 1957 of Sputnik-1, which transmitted an electronic signal back to earth simply for tracking purposes, sparked serious efforts by the U.S. to develop satellite communications for both military and commercial use. Score, developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency and launched in December 1958, became the world’s first active communications satellite. It received messages transmitted from a ground station and stored them on a tape recorder for retransmission back to earth. Launched in August 1960, the National Aeronautics American and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Echo-1 first tested the merits of using a passive ‘‘reflector’’ satellite—a 30-meter-diameter, aluminized mylar balloon—for the transmission of voice, data, and photographs between ground terminals. The U.S. Army’s Courier satellite, launched in October 1960, operated on much the same principles as Score but carried solar cells and rechargeable batteries to extend its potential lifetime. Stemming from its interest in transoceanic communication, AT&T launched Telstar-1 in June 1962 to experiment with telegraph, facsimile, television, and multichannel telephone transmissions between the U.S. and Europe, as well as Japan. With the launch of NASA’s Syncom-2 in July 1963, the world finally had its first geosynchronous communications satellite. Not until 1975 would the USSR achieve a similar feat with its Raduga spacecraft for military and governmental communications, followed by its Ekran series in 1976 for direct television broadcasting and its Gorizont series in 1979 for domestic and international telecommunications.
The history of two-way communication is embedded in a series of much deeper histories: technology, imperialism, and the rise of the nation state, to name but a few. These, in turn, are embedded in a discourse that returns theory to a central place in non-Marxist histories. Several theoretical enterprises emerging from the academic disciplines of economics and political science look to technology as one of the major engines that drive history and to telecommunications technology as the most significant technology in the current world economy.
Although the global telecommunications system was shaped by the spectacular growth of the British submarine cable system after the first successful transatlantic cable opened for business in 1866, the 1900s saw considerable improvement of a system that had reached much of its modern shape by the late 1800s. Seven innovations stand out: 1. Low-frequency wireless telegraphy, starting around 1900 2. High-frequency wireless, which allowed telephony as well as telegraphy, in the 1920s 3. Microwave wireless, which led to radar, in the 1930s 4. Submarine telephone cables in the 1950s 5. Satellites in the 1960s 6. Fiber-optic submarine cables in the 1980s 7. Cellular wireless telephones in the 1990s. These seven innovations have increased the capacity or convenience of the global communications system and have trended towards radically lowered costs. Developments in two-way communications often encouraged one-way communications, such as the development of broadcast radio entertainment out of wireless telecommunications. Occasionally the flow of innovation has reversed, as in the importance of electronic television technology to the development of radar.
History of Communication Technology
To the many technological inventions of the nineteenth century that improved communications, such as the telegraph and the telephone, the twentieth century added motion pictures, radio, television, and the Internet. Most of the products created for improving communication in the nineteenth century improved communication between individuals. During the twentieth century, new technologies added ways for groups or organizations to communicate to other groups, marking the birth of mass communications. These new media would have profound effects on entertainment, how people received news, and politics.
The first major communication improvement to be commercialized in the twentieth century was the motion picture. Thomas Edison invented the first practical motion picture camera in the U.S., and in 1896 he showed a motion picture to the public in the New York City Music Hall. The U.S. was the pacesetter for the film industry and New York City was the early center of the motion picture business. The first narrative film was The Great Train Robbery (1903). During World War I, Hollywood began to replace New York as the home of the movie industry. By the 1920s, Hollywood had clearly become the movie-making capital of the world and silent-film stars such as Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Mary Pickford established themselves there.
Technological developments in the early twentieth century made sound motion pictures possible and greatly changed the film industry. In 1926, Warner Brothers, then a relatively minor studio, released the film Don Juan with a synchronized orchestral accompaniment. The studio had purchased the sound-on-disk Vitaphone system from American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). Warner Brothers sought to make short-term profits by supplying the technology to theaters that could not afford to hire live orchestras. This first attempt was successful enough that the first talking movie—The Jazz Singer staring Al Jolson—was released in 1927. In addition to the orchestral accompaniment, this film also featured popular songs and dialogue. The new sound films enjoyed great success and almost all Hollywood films included sound by the late 1920s, leading to greatly increased profits for the studios.
The introduction of sound did lead to some problems and changes in the film industry. Problems included the tremendous expense now involved in the production of motion pictures and the primitive nature of microphones, which forced actors to remain almost stationary and would pick up the sound of cameras and other set noise. Changes included the replacement of many silentera actors with new actors with stage experience due to the fact that with sound, film actors had to have pleasant sounding voices without strong foreign accents. Sound led to the production of more realistic films, including crime epics and historical biographies. Musicals also became an important film genre, including the animated musicals of Walt Disney.
Movies would become the world’s leading form of entertainment until the advent of television after World War II. For many, films represented the decadence of twentieth century society, displaying modern sexual mores on the screen. Along with radio, the film industry also became big business. Furthermore, the motion picture industry centered in Hollywood served to export the culture of the U.S., as moviegoers around the world viewed U.S.- made films.
Although motion pictures were mostly used for entertainment, showings often included such current news events as wars, parades, and speeches. In the 1930s, after sound had been added, newsreels covering the week’s major events were shown in most theaters along with the movies. Authoritarian governments that emerged between the two world wars became particularly adept at utilizing film as a propaganda tool. The Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union and the Nazis in Germany successfully used motion pictures for political ends. The most famous example of this political use is Triumph of the Will, a 1934 film by the German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl that depicted a Nazi rally at Nuremberg.
During the war, film was used to support the war aims of governments. In the U.S., for example, Hollywood backed the government’s information campaign through the Bureau of Motion Picture Affairs, which produced commercial features with patriotic themes. Hollywood also produced documentaries such as Frank Capra’s Why We Fight, which sought to explain the war to both soldiers and civilians.
Immediately after the war, Hollywood enjoyed a brief boom, as two-thirds of Americans went to the movies at least once a week. Soon, however, antitrust legislation, protectionist quotas abroad, and the rise of television cut into Hollywood’s profits. The Cold War also greatly affected the film industry, as many suspected communists were blacklisted by the studios and film-making became more conservative. Traditional genres such as musicals and westerns continued after the war, while others grew in importance, including many lower-budget films that dealt with social problems such as racism or alcoholism. Also popular was film noir, which offered a dark interpretation of American society.
World War II devastated the film industries in much of Europe, the Soviet Union, and Japan. A postwar renaissance was led by Italy and its neorealist movement that attempted to show the reality of a country afflicted by warfare. Great Britain and France soon followed in reviving their film industries. Japan also was able to restore its motion picture industry after the war, as many studios were left intact. Akira Kurosawa led the Japanese revival with numerous films, including Rashoman.
A film industry developed in many Third World countries. India had a vibrant film industry led by director Satyajit Ray. Many of India’s films provided an alternative cinema with artistic merit. At the same time, India also became the world’s largest producer of low-quality films for domestic consumption, making more than 700 motion pictures in sixteen languages each year. Film was often the only access to audiovisual entertainment for the many poor and illiterate Indians.
Latin America and Africa also developed sometimes militant, alternative forms of film; for example, in Cuba during the 1960s, when the country’s revolution influenced world-renowned directors such as Toma´ s Gutıerrez Alea and Humberto Sola´ s. The so-called Cinema Novo (New Cinema) developed in Brazil during the 1960s and spread to other Third World countries. While many Third World nations created sometimes revolutionary film genres, military dictatorships also repressed motion pictures in numerous countries such as Argentina.
By the early twentieth century, wireless communication began to appear. The first example of wireless communication was the radio. In 1895, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi transmitted the first wireless telegraph message. Starting in 1901, Marconi used radio telegrams to communicate with ships on the Atlantic Ocean. The usefulness of radio was seen in its use during the Russo–Japanese War in 1905. In the U.S., experimental broadcasting to a mass audience started in 1910 with a program by the famous singer Enrico Caruso at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Perhaps the most dramatic example of radio’s value in spreading information was its use in reporting on the sinking of the Titanic in 1912, which demonstrated radio’s ability to allow people to experience distant events as they occurred. World War I interrupted some radio research, however the demands of military communications sped up the development of radio technology.
During the 1920s, what had been more of a hobby became a mass medium that played a central role in news reporting and entertainment. A number of experimental broadcasting stations had converted to commercial stations by broadcasting programs on a regular basis, including news such as the results of the 1920 presidential election in the U.S. In the U.S., because radio was a good way to communicate with large groups of people, broadcasting rapidly consolidated into national networks in order to attract advertising revenue to support news and entertainment programming. The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) created the first nationwide broadcast network, the National Broadcasting Company (NBC), in 1926. In Europe and some other parts of the world, governments generally controlled radio broadcasting.
Radio played an important role in twentieth century communications, as it allowed people much easier access to entertainment since many families owned radios. By the end of the 1920s, two-thirds of homes in the U.S. owned radio receivers. People no longer had to go to a concert, play, or sporting event to be entertained. Instead, they could now enjoy many forms of entertainment from the comfort of their own homes. Despite the fact that radio broadcasts could reach millions of people, the medium gave those in their homes a sense of immediacy and intimacy. Furthermore, unlike written forms of communication, no formal education was needed to enjoy radio programs. Many forms of popular entertainment shifted to the radio, allowing them to maintain and even expand their audiences. Radio offered a wide variety of entertainment genres, including dramas, comedies, sports, and music.
Besides providing entertainment, supplying news, and making money for entrepreneurs, radio also proved to be an important tool for politicians, better enabling them to mobilize the masses. Perhaps best known are Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘‘Fireside Chats,’’ which allowed the president of the U.S. to reach the public directly during the Great Depression and World War II. As was the case with film, authoritarian regimes in particular made use of radio technology. Italy’s Benito Mussolini pioneered the use of radio to address the nation. In the Soviet Union, the first experimental radio broadcasts began in 1919. In 1922, a central radio station in Moscow began broadcasting. By 1924, regular broadcasts could be heard throughout most of the USSR and by 1937, there were some 90 radio transmitters in operation in Stalin’s Soviet Union. Leaders in Nazi Germany also made effective use of the radio during the 1930s and 1940s. In Japan, the right-wing government utilized radio to promote its goals leading up to World War II.
Radio has also become an important means of communications in other parts of the world. In Latin America, for example, radio, along with television, is the main medium for transmitting information. In most Latin American countries, radio reaches far more people than print media, due to lower rates of literacy and lack of purchasing power. From the 1930s to the 1960s, many radio stations broadcast radionovelas, serial radio programs similar to soap operas. Since the 1960s, such programming has largely moved to television. As was the case elsewhere, early Latin American radio also featured variety shows, dramas, sports, talk shows, and news.
Radio also contributed to the spread of Latin American culture to other parts of the world, especially in the realm of dance and music. Argentine tango, Mexican boleros, salsa from New York’s Latin community, and Brazilian samba all became popular beyond the borders of Latin America in large part because of radio airtime. Samba, for example, emerged as a musical and dance form from the poor sections of Rio de Janeiro, the capital of Brazil at the time. From its Afro-Brazilian roots, samba emerged from a locally popular form to one that had a national importance in Brazil. As samba received increased radio airplay, it seemed to unite the country and came to represent Brazilian nationalism. Performers such as Carmen Miranda, who later also became a Hollywood film star, popularized the music on the Brazilian airwaves. Soon, listeners heard samba on their radios throughout the world, demonstrating that mass culture could spread from poorer countries to elite consumers around the globe due to communications technology such as radio.
From the 1990s, radio stations in Latin America have often become more specialized as they seek audiences. Amplitude modulation (AM) stations tend to carry news, talk, and local popular music. Also, they often cater to the interests of groups outside of the cultural and linguistic mainstream. For example, radio stations in Lima, Peru feature ethnic music and news in Quechua or Aymara languages for recent migrants from the highlands. Frequency modulation (FM) stations emphasize music, particularly national popular music or international music. International music tends to be popular among the young and affluent, while national music appeals to an older, more working-class audience.
Another important twentieth century development was television, which would soon overshadow radio and motion pictures. In the U.S. during the late 1920s, many attempts were made to create an experimental telecast, and a few met with success, particularly RCA’s efforts. In 1936, NBC provided 150 experimental television sets to homes in New York City and sent telecasts to them, the first show being the cartoon ‘‘Felix the Cat.’’ By 1939, NBC was providing regular telecasts but to a limited market. When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, however, all television projects were suspended until the war ended in 1945.
After the war, television development continued where it left off, with the invention of better television sets, creative programming, and larger markets. The first coast-to-coast program was President Harry Truman’s opening speech at the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in 1951. By the 1950s, television had become a profitable industry. Television enjoyed a ‘‘golden age’’ and increasingly replaced radio as the principal mass medium. Indeed, television became a key part of social life in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Following World War II, a growing number of people had more money and more leisure time, both of which were often spent on television.
While early televisions in the U.S. were largely affordable, they were often unreliable. Technological improvements soon made television much more reliable and appealing. These improvements included the replacement of vacuum tubes with the transistor and the development of color sets. In 1953, the first color telecast was made, which spread so fast that by the 1960s, most telecasts were in color. Later advancements include the spread of cable television in the 1980s, which gave viewers access to dozens of specialized channels and challenged the power of the traditional television networks. Many of the newly available cable channels, such as MTV and CNN, would have important effects on society and culture. The end of the twentieth century witnessed the rise of satellite and high-definition television, which offered viewers even more choices and improved the technical quality of television.
Television continued the process of the globalization of U.S. culture, as viewers around the world watched comedies and dramas produced in the U.S. Sporting events also helped to spread the U.S.’s cultural values. The National Basketball Association (NBA) was particularly successful in its international marketing efforts, popularizing its sport around the globe and creating stars such as Michael Jordan, who arguably became the most recognized athlete in the world. In addition, U.S.- based businesses, such as Nike, benefited from the globalization of basketball through television, as the sport helped to sell more of its athletic shoes. Yet it was not only basketball and the U.S. that dominated the use of television. During the 1986 soccer World Cup in Mexico, games were played under the midday sun in order to be broadcast during primetime in European countries.
Television grew more slowly in the Soviet Union than in the U.S. and Western Europe. As late as 1960, only five percent of the Soviet population could watch television. Television audiences grew during the 1970s and 1980s, often at the expense of film and theater audiences. By 1991, 97 percent of the population could view television, and a typical audience for the nightly news from Moscow numbered 150 million.
Television also became available in Latin American countries during the 1950s, when it was largely restricted to an upper- and middle-class urban audience. In this early phase, programming was limited to live, local productions. From the 1960s, television became much more of a mass medium. In this period, much of the programming was imported from abroad, especially the U.S. By the 1970s and 1980s, high-quality national production appeared, especially in Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Venezuela. The most important and successful productions were telenovelas, a form of the soap opera. By 2000, in some countries, such as Brazil and Mexico, perhaps 90 percent of the population had regular access to television. While the figure is lower in rural areas, even this began to change in the 1980s when satellite dishes linked to repeater transmitters allowed for increased access in remote areas.
Computers and the Internet
While film, radio, and television all had dramatic effects on communications in the twentieth century, all three were still ‘‘one-way’’ media that lacked any sort of interactive capabilities. The advent of the computer revolution and in particular the Internet changed this situation in the late twentieth century. While early computers had been large and slow, by the 1970s and 1980s, engineers centered in California’s so-called Silicon Valley created increasingly smaller computers with greater memory capacity. After these hardware developments, improvements in software followed that allowed computer users to word process, play games, and run businesses. These technological improvements in computer hardware and software would soon have a profound effect on communications and commerce with the development of the Internet.
The creation of the Internet was the result of attempts to connect research networks in the U.S. and Europe. In the 1960s, the U.S. Department of Defense created an open network to help academic, contract, and government employees communicate unclassified information related to defense work. After crucial technological advances in the 1970s, in 1980 the Department of Defense adopted the transmission control protocol/Internet protocol (TCP/IP) standard, which allowed networks to route and assemble data packets and also send data to its ultimate destination through a global addressing mechanism.
During the 1980s, the defense functions were removed from the network, and the National Science Foundation operated the remainder, adding many new features to the network and expanding its use around the world. While government agencies were the principal early users of the Internet, by the 1980s its use had spread to the scientific and academic community. By the 1990s, the Internet had become increasingly commercialized and privatized. The rise in the use of personal computers and the development of local area networks to connect these computers contributed to the expansion of the Internet. Starting in 1988, commercial electronic mail (e-mail) services were connected to the Internet, leading to a boom in traffic. The creation of the World Wide Web and easy to use Web browsers made the Internet more accessible so that by the late 1990s, there were more than 10,000 Internet providers around the world with more than 350 million users.
In the early twenty-first century, the Internet is a critical component of the computer revolution, offering e-mail, chat rooms, access to the wealth of information on the Web, and many Internet-supported applications. The Internet has had a dramatic impact on global society. E-mail is rapidly replacing long-distance telephone calls, and chat rooms have created social groups dedicated to specific subjects, but with members living around the world. The Internet has not only changed how people communicate but also how they work, purchase, and play. Many people now work at home, using the Internet to stay in touch with the office. People have also begun to use the Internet for banking and shopping services rather than so-called ‘‘brick and mortar’’ locations.
The communications revolution of the twentieth century created many new social problems that will have to be addressed in the twenty-first century. While people have access to more information than ever before, that information, often unfiltered and invalidated, has created several generations of children who are seemingly immune to extreme violence. Health concerns are also an issue, as people spend less time in outdoor activities and more time sitting in front of the television or computer. The online nature of the Internet will also make privacy one of the major issues of the near future.
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