It has been over twenty years since the internet was made available to the general public. Since then internet access has been made available in restaurants and coffee shops, a myriad of devices ranging from cellular telephones to children’s video game systems can surf the World Wide Web and a significant number of people choose to do their holiday shopping online. Indeed, one well known chain of electronics stores will price match against Amazon.com. With all of this in mind, one might ask how much of an impact the internet has made on the global economy. Or put simply, has the internet made us richer?
Some might argue that the internet has opened up opportunities to the average person that were simply not available before. Websites such as eBay and Amazon are filled with success stories of people who gave up their jobs to pursue a business selling items online. We have also seen many industries that owe their entire existence to the internet. Examples would include Monster, a website focused on putting employers in touch with job applicants and Craigslist, a website that pioneered online classified advertisements. Another example would be online loans brokers. Without the internet these brokers would not be able to help one obtain financing from willing lenders all over the nation.
On the other hand, the internet has also brought its share of missteps, controversies and setbacks. Many small businesses claim that they cannot compete against the low overhead and favorable tax positions enjoyed by internet retailers. Frivolous use of the internet by employees has also harmed productivity. Websense, Inc. has estimated that the United States loses $178 billion in lost productivity every year due to frivolous web surfing by employees. Facebook, online gambling networks, Netflix and YouTube are also well known to be productivity killers.
It is probably safe to say that in the long run the internet has indeed made us richer or at least made it easier to complete tasks. A student no longer needs to spend hours in a library researching books and small business owner can quickly order supplies and pay for them at any time of day over the internet. However, as is often the case, the internet can be a double edged sword, it can expose one to lost productivity, a myriad of distractions and a new generation of liabilities. It is a tool to be managed carefully and when treated as such will be a boon to a business.