Use it for good

The 25th birth anniversary of the world wide web, which happened this week, is time to take note of its development and acknowledge its contribution to the dissemination of information across individuals, organisations and countries.

There is no other technology in history that has spread so fast and affected the work and life styles of so many people in so short a time. A world without the digital web is unthinkable now. It made communication cheap and almost instantaneous and created a revolution in the information age which was already speeding up with tools like faster transport and telephone networks. It increased productivity and helped to organise the use of time in more efficient ways. It also generated new habits, new addictions, new forums like the social media and giant companies which outpaced others in reach, influence and revenues.

The idea of the web first took shape with a proposal of Tim Berners-Lee who presented it to the research body CERN (European Organisation for Nuclear Research) in 1989 as a tool to link information systems to keep track of data. It did not envision the present spread and uses of the web, but the basic ingredients like the absence of a centralised organisation and remote access across networks were there. The technical language and protocols were later developed and when CERN allowed individuals and organisations outside it to join the web in 1991 and royalty was waived for users in 1993, it started evolving into a people’s medium. It has seen many technological and other changes since then. The number of web sites grew from 130 in 1993 to over 600 million now and there is no count of the users.

While the web might change in  more ways in future, greater care is needed about its use. Tim Burners-Lee has himself sounded a note of caution with a call for effective steps  to protect the neutrality and openness of the web. He wants a bill of rights underwritten by governments and multilateral bodies to guide the working of the web. The call has been widely endorsed too. The web has been rampant misuse for espionage, intrusion of privacy and even facilitation of crimes. While it has expanded freedom and given equality and more opportunities for all people and even brought down governments, it has also given rise to new methods of control and intervention. The world has to find ways to keep the bad in check.

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