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The Ultimate Millennial: Happy 25th Birthday, World Wide Web

March 12, 2014
Personal Finance
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If only we looked so good at 25.

In March 1989, British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee wrote a proposal for a system that would allow sharing of hypertext links of information. When he wrote it, the British computer scientist wasn’t thinking about changing the world: He wanted it to be a way his colleagues at CERN could better share and store data from their experiments. Later, he created the world’s first webpage.

Fast forward 25 years, and 87% of Americans use the World Wide Web today – in 1995, more than 40% had never heard of it, according to Pew Research Center. A 2012 Boston Consulting Group study estimates that 3 billion people – nearly half the human race – will be online by 2015. Use is now so pervasive there are nearly twice as many people online in China (618 million) than the total population of the United States.

The epic changes heralded by that invention now feel commonplace.

“We fail to remember that there was a time when a lot of us said, ‘Why would anybody ever want to watch a video on a mobile phone?’ ” Mike McGuire, a vice president of research at Gartner, told The San Jose Mercury News. “We also fail to remember how we used to settle for watching TV only when a network programmer said we could.”

The inventor of “www” believes an online “Magna Carta” is needed to protect and enshrine the independence of the medium he created and the rights of its users worldwide, Berners-Lee told the Guardian.

“Unless we have an open, neutral internet we can rely on without worrying about what’s happening at the back door, we can’t have open government, good democracy, good healthcare, connected communities and diversity of culture,” he said. “It’s not naive to think we can have that, but it is naive to think we can just sit back and get it.”

Illustration by Brian Yee