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Whether you believe the internet is a societal blessing or a bane, it unquestionably makes tasks quicker and therefore more convenient.  The dawn of the Digital Age put communication and information at our fingertips, literally and figuratively.  It changed what we think about, care about, and know about.  The following is a list of the top ten features of modern life most dramatically impacted by the web.

10.  Banking

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The internet revolutionized how the world handles money– mainly by handling less hard currency.  Paperless billing and virtual payments instantly transfer funds, rendering hardcopy statements and checks near obsolete.  Person-to-person payments allow individuals to get and give money with just an email address or a telephone number.  Should you happen to receive a hardcopy check, you can now scan and deposit it instantly.

The shift to online banking means fewer trips to local branches which are dwindling in number due to their costly overhead.  New, primarily web-based institutions are transitioning to a reliance on ATMs which quell what remains of the need for hard cash.  While this may all seem rather Orwellian, more banks competing at a reduced cost should theoretically translate to better interest rates.

9.  Celebrity

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While an internet sensation’s fame is typically fleeting, the web paved a new, nontraditional path to glory– the viral video.  YouTube allows the average Joe to become famous with just a camera and a few keystrokes.  Established stars also have a new venue to increase exposure and bloggers can be read worldwide.

Causes also gain quick popularity on the internet.  Passing along social media pipelines from one set of friends to another, words and images have the potential to explode exponentially.  From inane to insane, if it is posted on the web, someone will eventually click on it.

8.  Shopping

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No matter how remote your location, online shopping makes a world of goods available to virtually anyone with mail delivery.  Consumers can buy and sell almost anything from the comfort of home.  Furthermore, easily-accessible price comparisons allow shoppers to find the best deals, thereby heightening retail competition.  Cyber Monday, which debuted in 2005, is now the second biggest American shopping day.

The vast amount of time users spend glued to computer screens also opened up a new platform for advertisers.  While television and radio ads guess at targets, online tracking allows sellers to more accurately pinpoint potential buyers.  Once a captive audience is discovered, internet product launches and promotions are considerably cheaper than their traditional counterparts.

7.  Entertainment

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Although surfing the web constitutes a pastime all its own, video streaming allows users to watch virtually any television program or event from around the world.  In addition to watching traditional movies, webisodes and certain features are geared to an entirely computer-based audience.  The latest music from virtually any artist can also be played and purchased with ease.

Pornography greatly benefited from the internet revolution, becoming widely available behind closed doors.  Gone is the stigma of venturing into “adult” bookstores or pesky delay from mail order.  Gaming and gambling also got a huge boost from connectivity in the form of massive multiplayer online games and virtual casinos.

6.  Education

Although computers were utilized in the classroom for decades, the internet ratcheted up the learning curve.  Teachers are now able to use, tailor and share lesson plans with proven results.  Visual learners tend to thrive in these environments, as well as students who prefer hands-on manipulation.  Pupils seeking additional help can stay afloat with on-line tutoring.

While it is hard to replace the tangential schooling gained from spending several years in close, physical contact with peers, internet higher education degrees now rival traditional ones.  As many online institutions tout, you can earn a degree “in your pajamas” (not that it is impossible on college campuses).   This shift especially benefited individuals continuing to work full-time while improving themselves.  According to the Sloan Consortium, two-thirds of the largest educational institutions in the United States now offer fully online college and advanced degrees.

5.  News

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People need no longer rely entirely upon television, radio and newspapers for information.  Nowadays, news typically breaks on the internet before anchors are able to suit up and get in front of the cameras.  Unfortunately, the speed with which information flows over the web also carries with it the inherent risk of unreliability.  Nonetheless, it is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Users are also able to pick from a larger array of information sources, tailored to their particular biases.  Uncensored information is widely available online because there is less constraint due to governments, politics and commercial sponsors.  The web is also an excellent source for in-depth coverage which cannot fit into a half hour newscast or on the printed page.

4.  Protesting

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Social media sites have greatly impacted protesting with their ability to mobilize millions quickly.  The recent uprisings in the Middle East relied upon the internet to solidify the desire for change.  Once individuals take to the street, they have instant access to the latest developments via cellular phones.  In fact, at the behest of the U.S. State Department, Twitter postponed planned upgrades so as to not disrupt activists.

Waning are the days of knocking on doors to get signatures for a cause, a laborious task which insulated corporations from popular sentiment.  Even monoliths must now pay attention to online petitions created by individuals:  Angered by Bank of America’s Fall, 2011 debit card fee, 22-year-old nanny Molly Katchpole created a petition, got over 300,000 signatures, and the company backed down.

3.  Work Habits

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In addition to the massive computer industry which greatly increased from its popularization, the internet affords countless individuals (including the disabled and parents without childcare) the ability to earn an income from home.  Even without necessity, telecommuting is a convenient option which saves the hassle and energy of transportation.

Teleconferencing allows far-flung workers to instantaneously collaborate on a singular project.  The more minds working together, the better and quicker the result.  Meetings and training sessions no longer require individuals to occupy the same space.  Instant emails and document sharing have replaced hardcopies and obviated the necessity for slower, costly delivery.

2.  Research

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Even dogs are learning more online.

You no longer need to schlep down to the library and use hardcopy books for research.  Instead, the internet opened up an even vaster world of paperless references.  This information is typically free, up-to-date and drawn from a myriad of sources.  While the web is host to a great deal of false information, once unreliable sources are eliminated, more informed outcomes can be expected.

Information sharing is also a great benefit of the internet.  For most inquiries, another individual has already sought the information.  Repeated inquiries result in better information and more precise conclusions.  Not to mention speeding up the process.  All of this adds up to a more intelligent user.

1.  Social Interaction

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The internet impacted both the quality and the quantity of relationships.  Social media sites make it easy to keep abreast of existing friends’ recent activities, creating a convenient sense of connection.  While it is less time-consuming, the meaningfulness of face-to-face interaction may get lost in the shuffle.  Gone are the days of sitting down and having coffee or penning a letter when a cursory email or status update will suffice.

On the other hand, the internet provides fertile ground to foster new relationships which would not have been possible before the internet age.  Finding people who share your unique interests over many miles (and even languages) is quite possible today.  Online dating is slowly eclipsing chance meeting as potential mates are plucked from a larger, screened pool.  The more people with whom we interact creates a sense of interconnectedness, thereby fostering the potential for a more empathetic and responsible public.

by Suzanne Duvall