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What Exactly Is This “Information Highway”

“Think of the information highway as a library that’s so new it doesn’t have any shelves yet or a card catalogue to find what you need or a road you can take with information on all kinds of subjects” (The Information Highway). The “information highway” or “information superhighway” is a term that became popularized in 1990 and is now regarded as information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a basic human need. The official project behind the information highway was the National Information Infrastructure.

This went beyond the “interconnectivity of just computers; the scope broadened to include all types of data transmissions between a plethora of places, people, and devices” (Wikipedia). This project was expected to provide for the “integration of hardware, software, and skills that make it easy and affordable to connect people with each other, each other, with computers, and with a vast array of services and information resources” (Information Infrastructure Executive Order, 1993. ). It is also often associated with Al Gore, who “promoted funding for programmers that led to aspects of the development of the Internet” (Wikipedia).

In 1969, he created the first working prototype for his Internet invention. During this time, the Department of Defense Advanced Research Project Association (ARPA) began work on ARPANET. The purpose of ARPANET was to “promote the sharing of supercomputers amongst researchers in the United States” (Bellis). Al Gore described his idea of the invention of the Internet to the ARPA researchers: “In the Industrial Age, steam locomotives didn’t do much good until the railroad tracks were laid down across the nation.

Similarly, we now have supercomputers but we don’t have the interstate highways that we need to connect them” (Bellis). That was all the ARPA researchers needed to hear, and by 1969, the ARPANET was first demonstrated. The term “information superhighway” is a trademark of Al Gore’s Internet. The information highway is developing rapidly. “According to a report from the US Department of Commerce last year, it took 38 years for the radio to claim 50 million users in the US, 13 years for TV to gain the same numbers but only four years for the Internet” (Perry).

In 1994, there were 4 million users of the Internet world wide but in 1998 this number had risen to 100 million” (Perry). “It is estimated that the use of the Internet doubles every 100 days and that in the US; this number is growing at double the rate of the overall economy” (Perry). “With a population of approximately 275 million people, spread over 100 million households, about 60 million use the Internet, about 30 million use the Internet everyday, and about 40 million check their e-mail” (Perry).

The information highway will not only have an effect on the Internet, but also a great effect on education and training. Most of the digital materials to the public have been concentrated on those that are of value to education or research. This provides a “rich database as foundation for online education” (Perry). In nearly all countries of the world, either planning or activity is aimed at producing a computer-literate student body. Universities and Further Education Institutes are taping, digitizing and transmitting their best lecturers and demonstrations.

When this is combined with the digital projects that are going on in the publishing and library world, it is possible to think of huge databases of lectures, lessons, information and data that with the right software and facilities could make for effective remote learning and education. This has the potential of developing education at all levels into dispersed interactive systems that allow the student to access the very best of teachers and teaching practices from home and local resource centers.

The learning programs could even be designed to fit the special needs of students with learning difficulties or genius IQs. It could ensure that all students at all levels could be provided with optimal education regardless of geographical location or cultural differences. As massive digital databases are being built up by publishers and libraries, information services is another area that the Information Superhighway will have an effect on. Libraries have a great potential for providing access to the Internet for citizens who otherwise have no facilities to use the new communication and information resources.

A Gallop Poll commissioned last year by the American library Association showed that, even in high-tec America, two-thirds of the populations has a library card and that 64% visited a library at least once in 1997 and one in ten visited a library more than 25 times in a twelve month period” (Perry). “Perhaps, what is even more surprising is that 17% of the US library users went to connect to the Internet, but even so 81% went to take out books” (Perry).

Both of the terms “information highway” and “information superhighway” are used less frequently now that for many people the Internet has become a less abstract and more concrete thing. “However, the highway analogy even though useful and apt, has perhaps served its purpose” (Wikipedia). “The information highway is exactly what its name saysa road you can take filled with information on all kinds of subjects that includes community networks, thousands of interest groups, databases and on-line news services” (The Information Highway).

As we move towards the future, this highway is growing so fast that experts are having a hard time keeping up. Users are coming online by the millions worldwide, and the information available is expanding at an incredibly rapid rate. “From this point, where you head on the highway is up to you. As you are cruising on the highway it is up to you to find out what is useful. There are no road guides or maps, just your own curiosity and ingenuity” (The Information Highway).

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