Essay on the impact of the Internet on our Information Access. Written for my Msc Information Management as a Test Essay. Note that this was not written for the screen!
Has the emergence of the World Wide Web had a clear impact on our access to information? The answer clearly is yes but perhaps not as clear cut a Yes! as a lot of people will suggest. This essay sets out to identify access to information in a broader sense then just accessibility of digital information and in that light explores what has happened to more traditional sources of information since the arrival of Internet in the majority of households in the UK.
It was generally believed that the Internet was a miracle, some people called it a world wonder. These days we are entirely used to having a broadband connection available. Working on-line, e-mailing being the most obvious form, has become the norm rather than the option. When, during the sixties, the Internet predecessors started to get shape it was never considered a tool for the general public. Researchers connected their cumbersome big machines with each other and started to communicate via the screen rather then paper, they called this ARPANET and it was a response to the Russians launching Sputnik. It took until the middle nineties before the Internet was finally accessible for Joe Random and his family which coincided with the important development of the Mosaic Browser, a predecessor of the current Mozilla Firefox.
During these early years of the Internet, it offered elementary access to written sources. The odd image was present to cheer up websites but slow connections meant that in general the Internet mainly offered a library of unreliable and amateur processed information at home and highly scientific sources shielded off by passwords and restricted zones at universities and research institutes. Before the arrival of effective search engines it was difficult and frequently frustrating to discover the information that you wanted. You relied on sites that linked with other sites using hyperlinks. And occasionally you would find what you wanted with a search-engine like Yahoo or Lycos. It was hard to see the internet being a different way of finding information than what people normally would do in, say, a CD-Rom database. Since then it has evolved into a multimedial/cross-cultural and perhaps the most important: generally accessible source.
Emergence of the World Wide Web
It was in 1995 that the Internet really began to rival more traditional sources of information, but even then the penetration rate was low. Newsreports started to appear that newspapers were losing audience quicker then they could gain them and in the Netherlands this sparked off a massive merger of the biggest newspapers in the country ‘to try and beat off the challenge of the Internet!’ Magazine publishers began investing in ways of offering their articles on-line. Libraries began investing in computers to allow Internet-access in their buildings for people that did not have access of their own. And discussions about Death of Print were as present as they are now, Nguyen et al. (2006)
They were right about the growth of the Internet. It was getting bigger on a daily basis. Graph 1 (Eurostat, 2005) shows that the total amount of Internet subscribers in the EU zone has almost tripled between 1999 and 2003. There is now (2007) a staggering total of 38,500,000 or 63.8% of the population of the UK, having access to the internet according to internetworldstats.com, arguably not the most reliable source, but the OECD comes up with a similar statistic of just over 60% of the population having access to the internet in 2006, in 2001 they measured it as being 40% which means there has been a staggering 50% growth over five years.
Consequences of the World Wide Web on Access to Information?
The access to internet is much better for a lot of people and therefore they clearly have more access to information then they have ever had before. However Borgman (2000) Makes clear that access to information depends on definition of the words access and information. For the purpose of this essay, Information is made into a broader entity then Digital Information and access is extended to everyday encountering of Information.
So did the Internet really eat away at the traditional information market, or did the general public increase it’s awareness of access to information and therefore increase it’s information consumption? Since we have seen the emergence of the World Wide Web we have also seen an increase in the offerings from traditional information sources. Not in the least due to new laws like the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) which came into effect in 2000 and guaranteed several important issues with respect to access to information for the general public. Table one shows the main features of the Act as described by Smith (2004).
A General right of access to information held by public authorities
Exemptions from the duty to provide information
A requirement on public authorities to exercise discretion; they may have to disclose information even when it may be exempt under the Act (the ‘public interest test’
Arrangements in respect of costs and fees
A duty on public authorities to adopt publication schemes
Arrangements for enforcement and appeal
Codes of Practice
The FOI Act touches on all public authorities, ranging from the central government to the local NHS foundation. It is also entirely retrospective, meaning that all information from before the Act gets treated in the same manner as current information. There is no doubt that this Act has a big impact on the information available to the general public. So besides an increased access to governmental information;
Do Britons have less access to traditional sources of information than they had before the emergence of the WWW?
Have they got the same amount of access to traditional sources available but potentially (Think of the Freedom of Information Act) a lot more.
Have they actually, even without the Internet, got a lot more access to information and has the Internet spurned them on to be aware of how important information can be?
Due to the limitations of this essay it will only look into the most accessible traditional sources, Television, Newspapers and Magazines.
Effect on Traditional Sources
Television and radio
If we look at the most easily accessible information sources for the general public we can only come to one conclusion. One clear example is the advent of new television and radio channels since the birth off the Internet. Take Channel Five, the last UHF channel to be added to the roster in the United Kingdom. This happened as recently as 1997. Even if we take the birthdate for the World Wide Web as 1995 that is still considerably later then the emergence of the WWW. Before that there has of course also been a continual increase in television and radio channels provided via cable and satellite (Sky) and now Digital TV. Television consumers in the United Kingdom now have access to over 100 TV and Radio channels just by using a digital receiver.
Where many people feared the total decline of newspapers because of the advent of Internet, there is now more on offer then ever. mainly from the newly launched (1999) Metro newspaper, which can be picked up gratis in all major British cities by people using public transport. But papers have also increased their appearance frequency and massively increased the publication of added materials. In the Netherlands a Sunday newspaper came to fruition in 2004, although common in the UK, for the Dutch this is a big step. It is fair to say that Newspapers are fighting back on the content delivery aspect.
People also buy more magazines now then they ever did in the twenty years before. As demonstrated by the Periodical Publishers Association1. In the past year alone there has been an increase of 3,5% in circulation numbers in the UK.
All these statistics and events show that the access to more traditional sources of information is still alive and kicking and that people have a growing desire for information, whether it is in the shape of a magazine, a television program or a newspaper. However, in Liberating Cyberspace (1999) an important observation is made by Conor Foley: “You can trawl library databases and networks to download information in an hour which it would take weeks to accumulate any other way” (p. 271) This clearly shows that our way of accessing information has changed dramatically since the emergence of the World Wide Web.
In an article by Pastore (2001) in which he combined a lot of studies on the changes in information consumption, it is made pretty clear that the Emergence of the Internet has had a distinct impact on the time people spend on the more traditional media. As shown in Table 2, taken from Pastore’s article. But as shown in this essay it is now becoming clear that the traditional media have found ways of fighting back and the overall conclusion therefore has to be that the twentyfirst century citizen in the UK not only has access to more sources of information but actually accesses a lot more information from different sources then they did before the Emergence of the World Wide Web.
MY APOLOGIES FOR THE MESSY WAY IN WHICH THE REFERENCES APPEAR, I WILL TIDY THEM UP LATER!
Bibliography including e-Resources:
Borgman, C. L.(2000). From Gutenberg to the global information infrastructure : access to information in the networked world. London: MIT Press
Castells, M.(2001). The Internet galaxy: reflections on the Internet, business, and society. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Liberty (1999). Liberating cyberspace: civil liberties, human rights and the Internet: London: Pluto Press in association with Liberty
Nguyen, A. & Western, M.(2006). “The complementary relationship between the Internet and traditional mass media: the case of online news and information”: Information Research: an international electronic journal, 11 (3), 259
Smith, K (2004) (Incomplete reference) Freedom Of Informatio: A guide to the Act
Elen, R. G. (Undated) “TV Technology 9. The Digital Age” [Online]. London: British Film Institute: http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/technology/technology9.html [Accessed 20 October 2007]
Internet World Stats. (2007) “Europe: United Kingdom” [Online]. Bogota: Internet World Stats: http://www.internetworldstats.com/europa.htm#uk [Accessed 18 October 2007]
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2007) “Country Statistical Profile: United Kingdom” [Online]. Paris: OECD: http://stats.oecd.org/wbos/viewhtml.aspx?queryname=335&querytype=view〈=en [Accessed 18 October 2007]
Pastore, M. (2001) “Internet Becoming Preferred Information Source” [Online]. New York: ClickZ Network: http://www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=762881 [Accessed 20 October 2007]
PCM Publishers. (2007) “PCM Company Profile” [Online]. Amsterdam: PCM: http://www.pcmuitgevers.nl/Company_profile.pdf [Accessed 16 October 2007]