Internet, a system architecture that has revolutionized communications and methods of commerce by allowing various computer networks around the world to interconnect. Sometimes referred to as a “network of networks,” the Internet emerged in the United States in the 1970s but did not become visible to the general public until the early 1990s. By 2020, approximately 4.5 billion people, or more than half of the world’s population, were estimated to have access to the Internet.
The Internet provides a capability so powerful and general that it can be used for almost any purpose that depends on information, and it is accessible by every individual who connects to one of its constituent networks. It supports human communication via social media, electronic mail (e-mail), “chat rooms,” newsgroups, and audio and video transmission and allows people to work collaboratively at many different locations. It supports access to digital information by many applications, including the World Wide Web. The Internet has proved to be a spawning ground for a large and growing number of “e-businesses” (including subsidiaries of traditional “brick-and-mortar” companies) that carry out most of their sales and services over the Internet. (See electronic commerce.)