A Public Net
The Internet, with its millions of connections worldwide, is indeed changing the way science is done. It is making research more collaborative, making more data available, and producing more results, faster. The Internet also offers new ways of displaying results, such as virtual reality systems that can be accessed from just about anywhere. The new access to both computer power and collaborative scientists allows researchers to answer questions they could only think about a few years ago.
It is not just the scientists who are enthralled. While not yet as ubiquitous as the television or as pervasive as the telephone, in the last twenty years, the Internet has climbed out of the obscurity of being a mere "researcher's tool" to the realm of a medium for the masses. In March 2000, an estimated 304 million people around the world (including nearly 137 million users in the United States and Canada) had access to the Internet, up from 3 million estimated users in 1994. U.S. households with access to the Internet increased from 2 percent in 1994 to 26 percent in 1998, according to the National Science Board's (NSB) Science and Engineering Indicators 2000. (Every two years, the NSBNSF's governing bodyreports to the President on the status of science and engineering.)
In today's world, people use the Internet to communicate. In fact, for many, email has replaced telephone and fax. The popularity of email lies in its convenience. No more games of telephone tag, no more staying late to wait for a phone call. Email allows for untethered connectivity.
The emergence of the World Wide Web has helped the Internet become commonplace in offices and homes. Consumers can shop for goods via the Web from virtually every retail sector, from books and CDs to cars and even houses. Banks and investment firms use the Web to offer their clients instant account reports as well as mechanisms for electronic financial interactions. In 1999, the U.S. Census Bureau began collecting information on e-commerce, which it defined as online sales by retail establishments. For the last three months of 1999, the bureau reported nearly $5.2 billion in e-commerce sales (accounting for 0.63 percent of total sales), and nearly $5.3 billion for the first quarter of 2000. More and more, people are going "online to shop, learn about different products and providers, search for jobs, manage finances, obtain health information and scan their hometown newspapers," according to a recent Commerce Department report on the digital economy. The surge of new Internet business promises to continue, with some experts estimating $1.3 trillion in e-commerce activity by 2003.