One Web Day: Do you know your Web?

22 09 2009

Today marked an occasion to celebrate something that you likely use everyday. As a matter of fact, the odds are favorable that you are using it right now, as you read these words.

Any ideas?

September 22 is One Web Day, a celebration of the World Wide Web’s creation. To mark the occasion, students from the Elon University’s Interactive Media masters degree program set out to randomly survey attendees of a weekly event on campus called College Coffee. This event brings together students, faculty and staff for a period of conversation, socializing and eating! Taking advantage of this opportunity, we (I was one of the surveyors) set out to ask a series of questions regarding people’s perceptions and opinions regarding the World Wide Web.

The majority of answers to one of the survey questions caught me by surprise. The question reads as follows, “In what year was the Web proposed by Tim Berners-Lee?” Possible answer choices included 1970, 1980, 1990 or 2000. Of all those answer choices, the most respondents believed 1980 to be the correct answer. In actuality, 1990 was the correct choice. Why did most of the people surveyed choose 1980?

Although I have no scientific evidence towards the reasoning behind the answer choices people made, I do have a suspicion. As a result of the Web being ingrained into many of our daily lives to such a degree that people literally would not be able to function without it, I suspect that many people have grown so accustomed to its presence that they have lost sight –if they even had it to begin with—of how much the Web has advanced. In relative time frames, the Web has grown by leaps and bounds in a short period of time. As an entire infrastructure, I use that term loosely here mind you, it has continued to expand into new directions, among new populations, within new geographic areas rapidly, so as to lose sight of what life was like before public Web access was possible.

Perhaps a case could be made in support of the 1980 answer choice because of the introduction of personal computers within that decade. In turn, people automatically pair personal computing with the Web. In this sense, maybe 1980 works well as a comfortable and seemingly sensible answer within the guise of computer usage today. Interestingly, the age spectrum of those surveyed ranged approximately from 18 years to those in their 60s as a rough estimate. Clearly, several generational perspectives were represented within the framework by which respondents decided upon their answers.

Whatever the reasoning may be for those surveyed to answer at they did, I find it surprising that the majority consider the Web to be more antiquated than it really is. Once the correct answer was announced, several respondents commented that they were surprised. One Web Day may only be one day each year but perhaps people left College Coffee with a new realization, a moment of pause, to reevaluate a resource they rely upon everyday.

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