Twenty-nine ways World Wide Web has changed our lives in 29 years

British computer scientist’s proposal led to transformation of services and data access

“Today, Facebook reminds us all, every single day, whose birthday it is.” Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

“Today, Facebook reminds us all, every single day, whose birthday it is.” Photograph: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

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On this day 29 years ago British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee finished a document he titled: Information Management: a Proposal. The paper, which he sent to co-workers at Cern, the European Organisation for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, suggested a networked hypertext system to link the research centre’s documents.

Berners-Lee could scarcely have imagined then the impact his idea would soon have and how quickly it would completely change the world. Here are just 29 ways his web has transformed our lives over the last 29 years.

1: Remember newsflashes? Or reading all about it in evening papers? Or waiting for television news or learning how your favourite team from an actual printed newspaper? All gone now.

2: Tell a child of today how miserably limiting watching television used to be and watch horror cross their young faces.

3: A monthly subscription to a music streaming service which gives access to virtually every song ever recorded costs a tenner or about half the price of a CD when Berners-Lee was slipping his modest proposal into envelopes.

4: Envelopes are gone too – at least ones containing something other than bills. Email killed them.

5: When big weather such as Ophelia or Emma comes we turn to professionals but for everything else we have the web to tell us what’s going on in real time wherever we are.

6: In the 1980s pornography was illegal in Ireland and the only “racy” material available came in the form of dodgy naturist magazines and tabloid newspapers. Now, terrifyingly, there are millions of sites catering for every predilection – however niche – available to virtually everyone without restriction.

Table quizzes were once the preserve of the well informed. Now anyone with a smartphone can cheat with – virtual – impunity

7: Irish people spent €5 billion shopping online last year, an amount that will climb as we search for greater choice and – sometimes – much lower prices.

8: There was a time when finding out what had become of exes and people you hated in school required the resources of a private detective. Today you can lose hours trawling their family pictures on Facebook.

9: Cataloguing your life in pictures – moving and still – used to be expensive and difficult. It was also private and the only way strangers could like your photos was by breaking into your house and looking through your photo albums.

10: Table quizzes were once the preserve of the well informed. Now anyone with a smartphone can cheat with – virtual – impunity.

11: Heard a song on the radio and need to know who it is? All you need is Shazam. Shazam is all you need.

12: Managing money has changed beyond all recognition and physical banks will soon be a thing of the past. Already you can pay bills, transfer money and track all spending online while paying for your groceries with your watch.

13: Time was when only a person with a PhD in computing could record using a VCR. Today your DVR will “tape” whatever programme takes your fancy at the push of a button. And if you need to use the loo at a critical moment during a football match or Disney film, you just hit the pause button.

14: Always-connected smartphones make the landlines and payphones of yore seem ridiculously quaint. And stupid.

15: Remember taking pictures and leaving film in to be developed? The mystery. The excitement. The rubbish pictures.

16: Donald Trump would not be US president without Twitter.

17: The web has made children’s lives easier and immeasurably harder. With a phone and a social media presence they have no sanctuary and if they become the victims of cyberbullying it can be intolerable.

18: Downtime is a thing of the past. We are always connected and always on.

Symnatec, the internet security company which claims to have found the bug, said the software could take screenshots, control the cursor and steal passwords.
"Time was when people could have furious arguments in pubs without facts getting in the way. Now everything is too easily checkable and life is hard for spoofers."

19: Is that eyebrow tingle an aneurysm? Could that rash be meningitis? Ask Dr Google – it won’t steer you wrong. Actually, it probably will, which is why the medics who pick up the pieces of our misinformed hypochondria have so many headaches.

20: YouTube stars, Instagram influencers, Snapchat superheroes. The web has democratised fame for good or ill. Mostly ill.

21: Can you remember the last time you looked up a number in a phone book or called directory inquiries?

22: Work emails when your on holidays. How rubbish are they?

23: I’ll read the paper. No, I’ll look at Twitter. Or will I download a book? What’s happening on Facebook? Someone liked my tweet. Maybe I’ll answer that email. Oh, look, a cute kitten being hilarious on YouTube. It is any wonder our attention spans are shattered?

24: Cute kittens doing adorable things. How can that be bad?

25: More than 30 years ago Douglas Adams wrote about the Babel fish that could remove language barriers. Google Translate does that and you don’t even need to put a fish in your ear.

26: Everyone’s a travel agent now. And a restaurant critic.

27: Time was when people could have furious arguments in pubs without facts getting in the way. Now everything is too easily checkable and life is hard for spoofers.

28: Asking for directions? Mad stuff.

29: Remembering a close family member’s birthday was challenging and remembering a colleague’s or a person you met once at a wedding impossible. Today, Facebook reminds us all, every single day, whose birthday it is. It is in no way annoying.

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