The temple of broadband: fast internet is the most loved innovation of our times

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Broadband has firmly established its place in our hearts, with fast internet, online shopping and Google now shining as our most appreciated innovations of the last decade.

But while the internet gives, it also causes aggravation: Facebook, pop-up ads and Twitter are among the top five most annoying innovations, according to a study of 2,200 people carried out by consultancy group The Foundation.

The winners
New rewards (and problems) for our times, in other words, as a decade ago, just over a quarter of the population had the internet at home. Nearly all of them had to endure slow dial-up connections, meaning that while the internet was there, it was a completely different experience than it is today. Remember watching as pictures loaded, dripping down the screen in slow motion? Online shopping may have existed back then, but few of us had the patience to deal with it.

Things are different now, though, with 73% of the population having the internet at home, according to the Office for National Statistics’ figures from last year. Most of this is now broadband.

Charlie Dawson, partner at The Foundation, said:

“Home broadband was the winner, perhaps surprising if you thought innovation was all about shiny new gadgets. It’s a reminder of how useful broadband has become for most people in the UK. It allows us to do lots of things more quickly, more effectively and with a lot less effort, from shopping to dating to finding stuff out.”

The 10 most appreciated innovations:
1. Home broadband
2. Online shopping
3. Google
4. Chip and Pin
5. Digital cameras/photography
6. Online comparison sites
7. Community recycling
8. Health labelling on foods
9. Low-cost air travel
10. Consumer GPS/Sat-Nav

While the internet is the top entry, it is also a key component of five more entries which would not be what they are today without cyberspace. Online shopping, Google, comparison sites, budget flying and community recycling – all these have been enabled by the internet. Broadband is clearly not only our favourite innovation of the decade, but possibly up there with the game-changing inventions in human history.

The losers
While broadband topped the poll by significant margin, with half of respondents giving it top ranking, the list of negatives was less straightforward. Still, reality TV and Facebook were both labelled worst innovation of the last decade by almost one in five respondents.

The fact that social networks feature so highly on the list could suggest these things are fleeting fads, but it could also be a reflection on the demographics of the survey. Either way, social networks as a gateway to the internet is in its infancy, and are likely to keep moving from a focus on entertainment to becoming an integral part of internet life.

Irritation and time-wasting was cited as the top reasons behind the resentment rankings, lining up with usefulness and time-saving being key factors for the favourites. Money saving was less a factor, while only 28% said cutting edge technology was a key issue.

The 10 most resented innovations:

1. Reality TV
2. Facebook and similar
3. Pop-up advertising
4. Twitter
5. IVR/Interactive voice response on telephones
6. Congestion charging
7. Paid-for plastic bags
8. DVD membership schemes
9. Tracker mortgages
10. Public bike schemes

While some items on the list make a lot of sense – for example broadband has opened the door on the online world in a way not possible with dial-up – other entries are a bit more confusing. Take public bike schemes for instance: it’s not like it’s mandatory so those who don’t like it can avoid it, ditto bags-for-life at the supermarket.

Some items on the list are hard to avoid even if you don’t take part, like Facebook. The congestion charge leaves people little choice, assuming they feel it is actually necessary to take a car into central London in the first place. But some of the items on the ‘hated’ list actually cancel each other out: don’t like the congestion charge? Rent a bike. Don’t like reality TV? Join a DVD membership scheme. Sorted.

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  • The Internet has proven to be robust and flexible and its continuous evolution has seen growth from a small experiment into a giant collaborative network capable of meeting the demands of more than one billion users. The rise of mobile access and its integration with optical transport networks present new challenges.

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