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I had been following the Internet with great interest and enthusiasm beginning in 1992, and in 1994 became a co-founder of the World Wide Web Consortium at MIT. There were not many people familiar with the Internet or the fast-growing application called the Web, which many people at the time called the information superhighway. It was big news that year when the first known Web purchase took place: a pepperoni pizza with mushrooms and extra cheese from Pizza Hut. Also that year, the Clinton White House came online, and Yahoo! was created by Stanford University graduate students Jerry Yang and David Filo. At the time, they named the site “Jerry and David’s Guide to the World Wide Web.” The estimated number of Internet users in 1994 was 11 million.

In 2000, just 43% of internet users said they would miss going online “a lot,” if they lost access, 78% of internet users said they didn’t think it was stealing to download music from the Internet, and 40 million of the 83 million American Internet users had purchased a product online.

In 2004, 11% of American internet users followed the returns on election night online. The same year, Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg launched thefacebook.com (not a typo; that is what it was called back then). 1,200 Harvard students signed up within the first 24 hours, and Facebook went on to become the world’s biggest social networking site, with more than two billion users worldwide. Google started trading on the NASDAQ at $85 a share.

In 2008, 74% of internet users, which was then 55% of the entire U.S. adult population, said they went online during the presidential election to take part in or get news and information about the campaign. Just 19% of cellphone owners say they had gone online with their phones. Apple launched its App Store with 552 applications. Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo! for $44.6 billion, but the two companies could not agree on the purchase price. I was glad the purchase did not happen because the cultures were night and day different.

By 2013, the number of internet users had increased tenfold from 1999. The first billion was reached in 2005. The second billion in 2010. The third billion in 2014. The current number of users is 4.2 billion. Perhaps the most astonishing statistic is the number of Internet users in China. I remember when there were almost none. As of the end of 2018, the number had reached 829 million, more than double the entire population of the United States. Even more astounding is 817 million of the Chinese used a smartphone to access the internet, accounting for 98.6 percent of the total netizens.

According to Global Times, “There are still 562 million people in China isolated from the online world, with most living in rural regions. A low education level and insufficient internet surfing skills are the main obstacles blocking them from accessing the internet.” I have no doubt this will change. The dramatic increase in Internet use by the Chinese relates to the huge advances they are making in scientific research including robotics and artificial intelligence.