5 Things The Internet Can Do Right Now To Make Our Lives Better
What are bitcoins, and should you invest in them? How many calories do you burn while riding a bike for an hour? What's the best way to unclog a toilet? No matter what the question is, you can find the answer on the internet.
While many of us remember what life was like before the World Wide Web, few of us can imagine the future without it. The ability to search for answers to an embarrassing question or communicate with people from across the globe - all with the stroke of a keyboard - would be pretty hard to give up. And with faster broadband networks and WiFi hotspots everywhere we turn, many of us stay connected nearly 24 hours a day.
The Onward, Internet project, developed by the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, was created to collect suggestions, ideas, and articles from people all over the world about how the internet could be even bigger and more amazing than it is now. No matter how quirky some of the suggestions are, the project makes it clear that the Internet is changing our lives for the better.
We've put together our own list of a few things the internet can do to make life easier and more enjoyable for everyone. We may take most of them for granted. But it doesn't hurt to remind ourselves that thanks to the internet, we can now:
1. Fund a business.
Coming up with a great idea for a new business is only half the battle. The other half involves coming up with the money to fund that great idea. And sometimes waltzing into a bank and taking out a substantial loan isn't an option for a young (or broke) entrepreneur.
Fortunately, the internet has made it easy for people to raise capital for startups and personal projects through crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo. "Veronica Mars" fans banded together to raise nearly $6 million on Kickstarter to produce the "Veronica Mars" film when Warner Bros. refused to fund it. The crowdfunding website also made it possible for the technology startup Oculus Rift to fund its first virtual gaming product, garnering over $2 million from supporters. It's safe to say the amount is nowhere close to what a bank would have offered the young entrepreneurs.
2. Learn something new.
If you're hungry for knowledge, the internet is the perfect place to satisfy your appetite. A working mom who doesn't have time to make it into a classroom can now earn her MBA or work toward a nursing degree while her kids are fast asleep upstairs. Online universities like University of Phoenix offer students the flexibility to earn degrees whenever and wherever is convenient for them. More and more traditional universities are also offering online education as a supplement to on-campus classes.
For those who aren't interested in jumping all the way into a degree, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) at institutions like Khan Academy and Coursera give you the ability to pick and choose courses on just about any subject - ranging from organic chemistry to art history - while sites like Tree House Academy and Codecademy allow users to hone in on specific skills including coding, website design, and app development. By breaking down barriers, the internet gives people located in the most remote parts of the world access to knowledge they wouldn't otherwise have.
3. Stay connected.
It's now easier than ever before to stay connected with people. Facebook serves as a daily high school and college reunion, informing you when old friends have gotten engaged or are expecting a child. Platforms like Skype or FaceTime can keep an executive in China connected to her team based in New York City. Forums and messaging platforms like Reddit let you argue with someone in Minnesota about "The Walking Dead" all the way from Los Angeles. Twitter lets you chat with fans of the show simultaneously in real-time. A basic internet connection allows people to transcend thousands of miles and connect with others in a way that just wasn't possible a couple decades ago.
4. Improve our health.
It used to be that when you got sick, you called your family doctor, who might examine you and then refer you to a specialist. Today, patients can get medical advice, research remedies, self-diagnose (hello, hypochondriacs), and book doctor appointments while sitting at their desks.
But the advances of the internet also have far-reaching implications for healthcare and the quality of our lives. For those aren't able to visit a doctor in person, the practice of telemedicine represents the future of healthcare. Using videoconferencing or smartphones, doctors can examine patients remotely - whether they're diagnosing a common cold or evaluating stroke symptoms - which helps save lives while cutting down on costs and other resources. Telesurgery, which enables doctors to operate on patients despite not being in the room, is dramatically expanding healthcare opportunities for people in underserved communities.
And the internet is bringing health practitioners together to learn from each other and collaborate on new advancements. This is happening both within hospitals and across borders: Johns Hopkins, for example, has partnered with Hospital Moinhos de Vento in Brazil to share medical knowledge, research, and best practices with the doctors and staff there.
5. Be entertained (or entertain someone else).
You're stuck in the airport on a six-hour layover with two unruly kids ... for six hours. If you're fortunate to have a reliable internet connection and a Netflix subscription, then you're most likely the happiest parent around.
And forget about your kids - what about you? How many hours have you dedicated to binge-watching television shows and movies on a rainy Saturday afternoon? More than you'd probably like to admit. In 2014, Netflix users streamed nearly 6.5 BILLION hours of video in the first quarter alone. That's a lot of "House of Cards" and "Orange Is The New Black." From making a long commute bearable to serving as the perfect (secret) distraction in a boring meeting, the internet has become our our default, go-to conduit to streaming and downloadable entertainment.
Got more ideas about how the internet is helping and changing our lives? You can submit your suggestion at the Onward, Internet site.
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