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Preparing for your digital life in the 21st Century
Preparing for your digital life in the 21st Century

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2 Some aspects of our information society

[Timings. This is the second section of this unit. It should take you around three hours to complete. If you don’t have time to work through it all at once, there are break points where you can stop and return later.] In the previous section I introduced the concept of an information society; in this section I will outline some key aspects of such a society.

The changeable nature of the online world

One of the things you will notice while studying this unit is that some of the examples you read about no longer exist, or are nothing like as important as when the material was written in 2010 and 2011. This is inevitable, and you shouldn’t be concerned by it; your focus should be on the general principles, which remain valid.

As an example, there was a time when if you wanted to find something online you didn’t go to Google, because that didn’t exist. Instead, you almost certainly went to a search engine called AltaVista. I’ve just checked and this currently still exists at, but it is now owned by Yahoo! and looks very similar to Google. However, back in the late 1990s it was seen as the definition of what a community portal site should be, combining a search function with links to a range of information sources; as a result, it was the first-choice search engine for many people. It continued to develop, and was one of the first to allow users to search for images and to translate text from one language to another. However, by late 2001 Google had overtaken AltaVista in both popularity and ease of use, and we’ve now reached the stage where relatively few internet users use or even know about AltaVista.

Some companies you read about may no longer exist, and some may be more or less prominent. Yet the likelihood is that although companies come and go, there will still be ways to share photos (as Flickr and Picasa allow at the moment), to edit documents online (as is possible with Microsoft Office Live and Google Drive), to store files online (as Dropbox and Ubuntu One allow), and so on.