When I was a kid, I got interested in trout fishing. Specifically I "discovered" the southern Sierra's rivers and streams. I had a friend who got me interested. We would bum rides or hitch hike to these places. Then to get the less used areas, we bought a couple cheap packs and started backpacking. We soon drifted away as friends, and I continued going alone. Soon, the hiking became the purpose of the trips, not the fishing. At times I even found myself leaving my fishing gear at home.
In those days, there were not many places to buy gear, or even know what was available. If you lived close to an outfitter, sporting goods store, or Army Navy surplus store that is where you made your gear choices. Then Colin Fletcher wrote the Complete Walker, Backpacker Magazine was launched, and mail order took off with many people waiting anxiously for the REI, A16, and Campmor catalogs. Most people assembled their kit, and generally did not tinker with it too much. Then occasionally a new great book would be published and we would re-evaluate our gear. It was a slow evolution.
So for me, it was never a sport, it was just something I enjoyed doing. It was truly more about the hike.
The Internet has changed all of this. Ray Jardine's first book did not sell a lot of copies, as far as books go... but his ideas were discussed by a lot of people on the Web. Small companies sprouted and the Internet allowed them to sell their goods with small capital investment or advertising budget. Retailer and Manufacturer Websites were created, cyberspace forums and blogs popped up and more and more people were able to discuss gear and techniques. The Internet has changed everything. People with similar interests can now easily network, and in a few hours an individual can research dozens if not hundreds of options for a single piece of gear. We can now even observe the progress of people who take epic journeys in nearly real time. We can read the progress of some people thru-hiking the PCT, CDT, AT or unique adventures such as Andrew's Alaska-Yukon adventure last year. This has truly revolutionized backpacking.
A similar thing has happened to high school and college distance running. Distance running in the US had pretty declined from the heyday of the late 60's and 70's. In the past 10 years it has become popularized by the Internet and more people are running and the times have been improving at an accelerated rate. Again, the Internet has provided quick and easy access to information.
So the Internet has had a huge impact on our sport/hobby/experience/passion/awaking or whatever term/reason one backpacks.
It must be true, because you are reading this thread :)