The Most Common Uses of the Internet

Mohammed Emran /
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Let’s go back to the first time you used a computer to go “online.” 

It might have been back in 1995 or in 2015. No matter the age, it is safe to assume that the way you use the Internet today has changed since that first time your fingers touched the keyboard.

The Internet is a revolving door of technological advancement and possibilities. It only makes sense that as technology evolves and our needs progress, the way we use the Internet will also change. 

For someone back in the 90s, the Internet was a way to have interactions through a screen in the form of email and chat rooms. Nobody depended on the Internet and it wasn’t as essential as it is now. 

In today’s world, it is practically impossible to go five minutes without looking at a phone or a screen while living most of our lives online. 

Think about it, we use the Internet for everything—from paying bills to binge watching shows on Netflix; the Internet is basically a family member for which we pay services every month. 

As we dive deeper into the third decade of this century, we can only expect that the uses we have for the Internet continue to reshape and gain ground. 

A Quick History of the Uses of the Internet

The Internet in the 90s

If you were not actively using the Internet in the 90s, you probably missed out on one of the funniest decades for technology. 

Everything was new, and no one was really sure of what “going online” meant or why we might need to do so. 

The beginning of the 90s marked the era of the Internet as we know it today. Still, it was a big change for society to understand the concept of doing things online. 

For example, people did their research at the library through Encyclopedias and, you know, books. Google was not a thing yet. 

Email was even more foreign because nobody ever thought they could send a letter electronically to anyone in the world. That was pretty fly. 

The most common uses for the Internet in the 90s revolved around a few different things that set it apart from other decades. 

  • Surfing the Web
    Now that information was available online, people were quickly getting used to the idea of being able to do searches through the Internet from the comfort of their own home (if they owned a computer).
    A ton of books came out at the time that aimed to explain how to surf the web and understand all the complexities of what was capable at the tip of their fingers. Literally.
    For the society of the 90s, surfing the web mostly meant reading whatever publications were online, looking up information through forums, and having to fight your way through online ads.
    During the Internet of the 90s, there was room for people to make it whatever they wanted it to be. This was a time in which many people could set up websites, rudimentary at best, for their companies and products when there was not a lot of competition online.
  • Floppy Disks
    Floppy disks were a way to store information through a disk that you could insert into the computer. Basically, they were the first version of a USB drive.
    It was during this decade that illegal downloads of music and videos were most popular. Because the Internet was so new, there were hardly any piracy laws set in place and people were taking advantage of all the “free” information they could download online.
    Most users did not even have to download information onto their floppy disks, per se, because it was as easy as copying and pasting files into the storage unit.
    This type of illegal activity enabled the rise in pirate copies of movies and books to be sold on the street, causing a shift in sales for the rightful owners of the material.
  • Stock Images
    This was the beginning of memes. There was a big obsession over stock images back in the 90s and during the beginnings of the Internet. People got very creative with edited images anyone could view online or download into their computers as backgrounds.
    HTML code was how the Internet was set up initially, which made everyone using it—especially teenagers—absolute masters at it as they were able to virtually edit any image and make it their own. 

The Internet in the 2000s 

For part of the early 2000s, the uses of the Internet were still similar to the ones in the 90s. Most people now had a computer in their homes, and interactions between users were slowly improving and becoming more common. 

  • Google
    In the late 90s, two students from Stanford came up with the idea of a search engine in which people could look up any information they wanted. What started with everyone asking “What’s a Google?” slowly picked up speed and exploded in the 2000s. Nowadays, we say things like “Let me Google that,” as part of our regular vocabulary. However, when Google first started, the idea of being able to look up any information through the use of a single search engine was crazy. This far-off idea paid off for the founders of Google as it became one of the main reasons for people to use the Internet in the 2000s and even today.
  • Email
    With the booming of the Internet in the 2000s, email became a necessary feature. In order to connect to the Internet, most users had to have an email address. This alone became a reason to use the Internet going into the millennium. Everybody was excited about email and wanted to see how this invention could help them communicate with loved ones without having to wait for days for them to receive a letter.
    Of course, the entire notion of email was heavily romanticized with the film You’ve Got Mail which reinforced the idea that, not only could we now use the Internet to communicate, but to find love.
  • AOL Instant Messenger
    This was probably the main reason to use the Internet in the 2000s. Email was one thing, but the fact that people could now go online to chat with their friends in an instant was mind blowing. AOL instant messenger was mainly used by tween and teens alike. Most parents did not understand why their children would have any need to talk to their friends in a chat when they had just seen them in school, but they learned to live with this new trend. This was also where everyone mastered their typing skills along with showcasing tidbits of song lyrics on “away” messages. This was texting before texting became a thing. And if you didn’t have a creative screen name, you were simply not cool. 

Common Uses of the Internet Today

The question we should ask ourselves is: what don’t we use the Internet for today?

Some things that people used the Internet for in earlier decades still sustain today, like email and general web surfing. 

However, our use of the Internet nowadays encompasses our entire lives. There’s nothing we don’t do online, and that includes: paying bills, making purchases, working, and even going to school. 

  • Social Media
    Biggest change in the way we use the Internet from all the other decades is the addition of social media.
    This started in the early 2000s with the first popular social media page of MySpace. MySpace was all the things that kids loved about the 90s into one. People could post in forum-type sections, customize their own page with basic HTML code, and interact with their peers online.
    Of course, since the creation (and dissolution) of MySpace, social media pages like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok have largely taken over our social lives and have a heavy influence on how we interact with other people.
    In some aspects, social media is replacing emails and chats, by providing an all-in-one platform to communicate with one another.
  • News
    Even though there is still a market for people that like to get their news through traditional mediums like TV and newspapers, a lot of the population is now shifting to the Internet for their daily news intake.
    This generation of Internet users is very much accustomed to instant gratification and they seek information on a minute-by-minute basis. In fact, most news channels, if not all, run on a 24 hour basis for this very purpose. People want their news now. There is no longer a need to wait for the morning newspaper.
  • Entertainment
    In today’s world, the use of the Internet for entertainment plays a pivotal role in the way we relax. Since the end of Blockbuster—the retail chain where you could rent VHS movies, and later DVDs, for a small fee—streaming sites like Netflix and Hulu have completely taken over.
    If you’re looking for a quick way to watch something at home, or on the road, or during your lunch break, you can go on a streaming app and watch anything you want. Having a great Internet plan can aid in this by helping users enjoy their shows without any latency or freezing of the screen.

Modern use of the Internet will always change. The Internet is a tool that adapts itself to the needs of society—it helps serve the population with enough information and applications to lead more productive and satisfactory lives.

Although some of the most popular uses of the Internet today revolve around social media and entertainment, we use the Internet to work and sustain our lifestyles in the best way we can. The Internet became an essential part of day-to-day life. 

We’ve certainly come a long way since dial-up and chat rooms.