In spite of having been connected to the World Wide Web for almost two decades, I’m still in awe of it. What an incredible treasure trove of information (and misinformation) it is! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the thrill of being able to do a Google search on my favorite topic and end up with millions of hits in twenty seconds. Or if I’m in the mood for something in particular, such as a little ogling, I can always narrow my search down to a specific category like images. It’s better than owning several sets of encyclopedias—much better, if you have a clutter problem like I do.
At first, research and email made up the majority of my Internet usage. Eventually, I added more and more online banking and shopping, as they became easier and safer to do. Being able to directly input numbers and other information is a wonderful tool for mumblers like myself, who can’t seem to enunciate clearly enough to be understood over the phone. And the opportunity to double- and triple-check everything AND print out a copy is perfect if you’re error-prone and forgetful. Not that I consider myself any more likely to make mistakes or forget something than other people, but all it takes is one or two little errors to create a huge mess which then takes a lot of aggravation and persistence to clear up. So now I actually prefer to do many things online, rather than speak to someone in person.
Amazon, of course, is the Mecca of online shopping, and I spend more time and money there than I’d like to admit. Although there are many local retail outlets available to me, every store seems to carry the exact same products. They all have the same name brands, with the only difference being their store brand, which is manufactured at the same factory as the name brands. So if I want something that’s less common and hard-to-find, I usually have to go online to buy it. For really unusual or obsolete items, I often end up on Ebay. And even if an item is available locally, it’s easier to comparison shop online, instead of calling around, or even worse, driving around to every single store and then back to the place you want to buy it from. An added benefit of comparison shopping online is being able to get both professional and user reviews to help you decide.
In recent years, I’ve been discovering the joys of blogging, social networking, and message boards, where you can find others who share your particular interests, no matter how unique or obscure they are. Believe me, it’s a wonderful feeling to meet others who not only let you talk endlessly about what you find fascinating, but actually enjoy listening to you and want you to continue. If you’ve never experienced the pleasure of having other people hanging on your every word, I encourage you to find a forum of like-minded individuals who won’t find your interminable ramblings tedious. Even your most tolerant and kind-hearted friends and family eventually get that glazed-over expression that clearly indicates to the alert speaker that it’s time to change the subject. When you do find your niche where you can bond with people who share your interests, it is possible to make friends—yes, I do mean real friends—with people who live in all parts of the world.
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss the wonders of the Internet without mentioning YouTube. Hours can be spent there, watching the famous and the not-yet famous. Most are for entertainment purposes only, but there’s also a lot of useful how-to’s on YouTube, such as my co-blogger’s video about an easier way to chop onions. And just the other day, I went looking for a video on how to unbox my Kodak camera. (I knowing you’re dying to know why, so I’ll tell you.) Since I replaced that camera with an upgraded one and had hardly used the Kodak camera, I decided to try Amazon’s trade-in program, and I needed to see exactly how it was originally boxed, so I could put it back in the box correctly for shipping.
The trade-in program, by the way, is another new and useful benefit of the Internet. There’s no need to deal with all the hassles of selling it yourself, although that’s certainly a viable option because there are now many tools available online for selling items. But if you only have a single item, like I did, and it’s something that’s part of Amazon’s trade-in program, it’s certainly worth checking out. They pay all shipping costs, so even if it’s not accepted, it only costs you time and effort. One hint about the program I will pass on is that the amount they offer can fluctuate a lot, sometimes on a daily basis, so keep checking until they offer you an amount you find reasonable and lock it in by submitting your request. You then have a specific period of time to ship it to them to get that amount.
There’s a zillion other uses for the Internet, most of them specialized. There’s a place that archives old websites so that if you have the url, you still may be able to access the information from a deleted website. You can find out how to pronounce words, including ones in a foreign language. There are translator tools to translate entire pages written in a foreign language, which may or may not provide you with accurate and useful information, but will at least give you a good laugh at some of the strange phrases. You can buy and instantly download music or books, to your heart’s content, or watch TV episodes you missed. There are even tools to check the health of your computer or measure the speed of your Internet connection.
And once you pay for your connection to this wonderful World Wide Web, most of it is still free. Free information, free entertainment, free services, free products, free manuals, free software programs, free books, free online storage, free websites…free, free, free. How amazing is that? Although businesses on the Internet are finding more and more ways to pry money out of people, there are still plenty of free things and information out there, more than anyone could ever possibly use.
But the very best part of the Web is being able to secretly ask all your stupid questions. I’m talking about the really stupid ones that you’re too embarrassed to ask anyone else. Not only do you get an answer, but it’s also comforting to know that there must be a whole lot of other people out there asking the same question. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be able to find the answer. My most recent stupid question was about the difference between a cell phone and a smartphone because I recently ordered one (online, of course) and suddenly realized that I didn’t actually know what one was. So I Googled my question, and sure enough, I found an article answering the question, “Just what is a smartphone, and why is it so smart?”
Of course, what I probably should have asked was, “What happens when a technologically stupid person gets their hands on a smartphone?” But I have a feeling I’m going to find that out for myself. And when I do, I might even write a blog post about it because somewhere out there are other people wanting to know the answer to that question, too. In fact, someone could be secretly Googling it right now.