what do we use the internet for anyway

It was banned in Egypt. It was made a legal human right in Finland. It has its own government department in Australia, and it's the single-largest infrastructure ever built in that nation's history.

It was banned in Egypt.

It was made a legal human right in Finland.

It has its own government department in Australia, and it’s the single-largest infrastructure ever built in that nation’s history.

It’s the internet. We all know it. Most of us love it.

Heck, as Canadians we each spend an average of 42 hours a month online.

But what do we actually do with it?

We entertain ourselves. We make ourselves rich, and poor.

We conduct business. We shop.

We stay in touch with people and sometimes lose touch with reality.

The fact is, we do almost everything online now, in ever-increasing numbers.

Video use is exploding. Last year, Americans consumed 45 per cent more movies, TV shows, and video clips than the year before.

Canadian use probably increased by more like 65 per cent in 2010, and will do so again this year. After all, we are the largest consumers of online video in the world.

Canadian youth, in fact, spend as much as 18 hours a month just watching YouTube.

Then there’s music.

The music industry is in a sort of chrysalis stage these days, from which it will emerge much smaller than it has historically been. It’s transitioning from a period of long form, multi-track albums to one of online singles and radio. In a way, it’s devolving to the pre-Sinatra era.

Whatever the outcome of the transition is, one thing is for sure: it’ll all be online.

CD sales decline steeply every year (47 million fewer were sold in Canada in 2010 than 2009), but we aren’t necessarily buying more music online. There was just a five per cent increase in online music sales last year.

Instead, we’re tuning into online radio and other streaming services to get our musical fix, and that’s where the growth is happening.

Then there’s books, a medium that’s migrating online faster than any other.

Ebooks currently outsell hardcovers at a nearly 2:1 ratio on Amazon, and that company’s Kindle device is its bestselling product ever.

The ebook industry was worth $1 billion last year, and is expected to triple by 2015, when we’ll be downloading a full two-thirds of our books.

Trees should rejoice.

Most importantly, the internet is essential to how we socialize and communicate. This is true around the world, but more so in Canada than in any other country.

Over half of Canadians use Facebook. That’s one of the highest penetration rates in the world. And each of us spends an average of 30 minutes a day on the site.

Then there’s Twitter, which experienced a 75 per cent increase in Canadian content last year – with more women than men learning to tweet.

The world as a whole tweeted 25 billion times in 2010. And, while that sounds massive, it’s nothing compared to email. An astounding 107 trillion emails were exchanged last year. That’s more than 294 billion everyday.

Of course, we also like to use the internet to yap. So it shouldn’t be any surprise to learn that Skype is now the largest international voice carrier in the world. And it’s just one of many companies that lets you make phone calls online.

Skype alone holds more than 13 per cent of the global international call market and serves half a billion people. Skype users made 102.5 billion minutes worth of telephone calls last year. Earlier this year, the company set a record with 27 million simultaneous telephone and video calls (40 per cent of calls made with Skype are video).

And Skype is set for even more massive growth this year.

That might be why only 62 per cent of Americans consider a landline telephone a household necessity anymore. And that number drops below 50 per cent for people under the age of 28.

The internet is also how we increasingly stay informed. More than 40 per cent of Americans now get their news online. TV is still king for news, though its influence is on the decline, especially among younger people.

In 2010, for example, people under the age of 30 accessed news online more than they did on TV.

Then there’s everyone’s favourite pursuit: shopping.

Statistics Canada reports that Canadians spent $15 billion online in 2009, an increase of almost 18 per cent from two years before, and about three per cent of total retail sales. If that trend continues, and I’m sure it will, we’re slated to spend about $18 billion dollars online this year.

The internet is the spine of contemporary society. It binds people and the information they consume together. The internet binds people together.

It’s the single-most important media and communication resource available to us today, and its value and relevance will only continue to grow in the coming years, even as that of other media wanes.

It’s sometimes easy to dismiss the internet and discount its relevance. But when we do, it just demonstrates how integral it is to our lives, and how truly ubiquitous it is.

Andrew Robulack is a Whitehorse-based freelance writer and communications technology consultant specializing in the internet and mobile devices. Read his blog online at www.geeklife.ca.

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