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New York Review of Books – The fast pace of change on the information superhighway

Are We Puppets in a Wired World? - Sue Halpern highlights new books on a range of issues including privacy, big data, social media and predictive analysis in relationship to e-commerce.

“In the first five years of the new millennium, Internet use grew 160 percent; by 2005 there were nearly a billion people on the Internet. By 2005, too, the Internet auction site eBay was up and running, Amazon was in the black, business-to-business e-commerce accounted for $1.5 trillion, while online consumer purchases were estimated to be between $142 and $772 billion and the average Internet shopper was looking more and more like the average shopper. Meanwhile, entire libraries were digitized and made available to all comers; music was shared, not always legally; videos were made, many by amateurs, and uploaded to an upstart site (launched in 2005) called YouTube; the online, open-source encyclopedia Wikipedia had already begun to harness collective knowledge; medical researchers had used the Internet for randomized, controlled clinical trials; and people did seem to have a lot to say to each other—or at least had a lot to say. There were 14.5 million blogs in July 2005 with 1.3 billion links, double the number from March of that year. The social networking site Facebook, which came online in 2004 for Ivy Leaguers, was opened to anyone over thirteen in 2006. It now has 850 million members and is worth approximately $80 billion. The odd thing about writing even a cursory reprise of the events attendant to the birth of the Internet is that those events are so recent that most of us have lived through and with them. While familiar—who doesn’t remember their first PC? who can forget the fuzzy hiss and chime of the dial-up modem?—they are also new enough that we can remember a time before global online connectivity was ubiquitous, a time before the stunning flurry of creativity and ingenuity the Internet unleashed. Though we know better, we seem to think that the Internet arrived, quite literally, deus ex machina, and that it is, from here on out, both a permanent feature of civilization and a defining feature of human advancement.”

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