Rosie Dawson-Hewes: More to internet than funny cats

By Rosie Dawson-Hewes

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It's easy to waste hours on the internet doing nothing much at all, but it's also a rich source of learning tools and educational resources - and even better, much of it is free.
It's easy to waste hours on the internet doing nothing much at all, but it's also a rich source of learning tools and educational resources - and even better, much of it is free.

There is not a day that passes that I don't find myself saying "the internet is a wondrous place". It truly is. The wealth of knowledge we now have at our fingertips, almost every minute of the day is unparalleled.

I say this because I've just returned from a week of leave that, when I think about it, was largely dominated by the internet. From the first day of my leave, which I spent finishing off my last assignment for a post-graduate diploma that I've just completed entirely online, to the following few days spent relaxing on the couch, watching countless interviews with Barack Obama on You Tube, to then Facebook messaging mates to organise coffee and lunch dates. I found myself googling for inspiration before painting our bedroom and browsing Netflix for good documentaries to watch (of which there are plenty!). My quality of life is better because of the internet.

The whole point of taking time off work was to have some downtime after finishing two years of study. One of the best parts was having entire days to fall down the black hole of the internet, clicking link after link to see what took my fancy, what was interesting and what inspired me. I watched documentaries on a range of topics - from Nina Simone's involvement in the civil rights movement, to the downfall of early-90s gaming console, Atari (and the subsequent burial of a whole lot of its doomed E.T. games in an American desert) to a recently rediscovered interview with Steve Jobs from 1995, just before he made his return to Apple and rebuilt it from the brink of bankruptcy.

I wouldn't be able to access any of this great, informative content were it not for having internet access, particularly since our local DVD store closed it doors for the last time at the start of this year. The internet is a great tool, from giving me access to further educate myself, both in a formal and informal way, to connecting me with friends and family on the other side of the planet. I can't comprehend life without it.

I think internet access is something everyone should have. We should be working hard to make fast, broadband access available in all parts of our country, and all parts of the world. The way I see it, the availability of information online is one of the biggest assets of the free world. Do you know just how many tertiary-level courses are available for free online? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology publishes all its course materials online, so they're available to anyone for free. Do you love sharks? You can take a tertiary course in shark biology online for free, too.

In that 1995 interview with Steve Jobs, he said Apple's success was because the company had always focused on creating the absolute best products possible with a "spirit of enlightenment".

"The way we're gonna ratchet up our species is to take the best and spread it around everybody, so that everybody grows up with better things and starts to understand the subtlety of these better things," he said.

When I heard this, it was like a lightbulb went off in my head. This applies to absolutely everything, not just how you listen to music on the bus on your way to work. As a society we need to create the best housing solutions, the best healthcare system, the best education and then make sure everyone has access to it.

For me, education is right up there in terms of importance. Many countries in Europe have free tertiary education. Well, I say free, but I mean taxpayer-funded. Personally, I would happily pay more tax if it meant my kids didn't reach adulthood with the same level of student loan debt that I've had to pay off. My most recent qualification cost me nearly $10,000. While that's a large sum to plonk on to my nearly-paid-off student loan, the reason I did it is because I could see the additional skills would add to my earning potential. I completed my qualification through a New Zealand university, but given my time again, I'd probably more carefully consider free international courses.

Education, and knowledge, is invaluable and the internet makes it so easy. Access to education is a basic human right. By using the internet to further our knowledge as a race, we have the ability to improve quality of life for everyone. And who doesn't want that?

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