A Brief History: The Internet Then & Now

Yao Dong is a Syracuse University graduate student. And like her peers, she spends a significant amount of time on the Internet. She orders her textbooks online each semester, catches the latest news with her iPhone apps, chats with her mom over Facetime and saves important files to Dropbox. For Yao, life without the digital world at her fingertips is unimaginable.

But it wasn’t too long ago when ordering a textbook on a computer was unimaginable. In 1983, only 10 percent of U.S. adults owned a home computer – and 45 percent of those early adopters didn’t think their computers were all that helpful. The Internet was out there too, but it was primarily used by government institutions, science labs and research organizations to share files and exchange information.

Then came the game changer: the World Wide Web. Twenty-five years ago, the World Wide Web, which was invented by British scientist Sir Tim Berners-Lee, gave us a system for publishing information over the Internet and served as our entrance to conversation, creativity and a virtual global community. Still, it wasn’t an immediate sensation.

Back in 1995, only 14 percent of U.S. adults had Internet access, while 42 percent had never heard of the Internet. Those who did have access had to use a slow – by today’s standards – dial-up modem connection, limiting access to offices, homes and other fixed locations via telephone landlines.

We’ve come a long way in 25 years.

Today, 87 percent of U.S. adults use the Internet. And with the development of high-speed wireless technology, Internet access has moved from the desktop to the mobile device, allowing us to stay connected to the Internet when we’re on the go. No question, we live in a mobile world, where we’re using more mobile phones than computers to read news, track stock quotes, reply to emails, watch baseball games, book flights and even pay for coffee. By the end of 2015, experts predict the bulk of mobile broadband connections in the U.S. will happen on tablets.

First our phones got smarter. Now it’s the everyday objects around us that are getting online. So what does the future hold? The Internet of Things, in which data flows from one device to another, giving us unprecedented access to, and control over, information and devices. The Internet of Things enables an office coffee maker to brew coffee before you arrive at work or lets you adjust your thermostat when you’re 5,000 miles from home.

The World Wide Web might be the most influential 25-year-old any of us have ever known, and it’s only getting more impressive.