Tweet, blog and smile for the camera. We are far beyond the world of email, chat and Internet forum. This is not to say that the older technologies have become irrelevant. They often absorb large portions of our lives. More importantly, our experiences with the first Internet communications have provided a foundation of expectations: access is immediate, facts and opinions are accessible and everyone participates. (Saying you are not on the Web is like saying you heat your house with wood — it marks you as counter culture and raises questions.)
After decades living with the foundational technologies (do you remember a time without email?), Western culture is assimilating new expressions of the Internet on a regular basis. Our cars are wired, our phones are smart (with more apps every day) and we are busy reimagining every mundane bit of our lives. What is amazing is that we are dealing with all this change more or less comfortably. (What is uncomfortable will be left for a future blog.)
I see four reasons why Internet technologies — including powerful, life-changing ones — are moving into society with surprising ease:
- Simplification: the power of technology is being put into better user interfaces. It is actually a good sign if you immediately think of a recent struggle with technology. Not long ago, lousy usability was expected and acceptable. Now no one needs to know Linux to upload a new Web page. We accomplish amazing technical feats without even realizing it.
- Everyone knows a guru: My guru may not be as sophisticated as yours, but we all seem to have people to turn to who know a enough more about the latest gadget or application to lend a hand. And those people, when stumped, have their own sources they can consult at the speed of a text message.
- Workarounds and alternatives: In most instances, I can get things done with the technology I already know. No one knows everything about the latest technology, and no one needs to know everything.
- Culture: This is the big one. The people who run education in Texas may not believe in evolution, but they do believe in social networks. Even the ignorant have accommodated themselves to the Internet in its many forms and variations. An evolving digital world is just part of our lives.
Western culture, as a whole, lives with a number of realities that exist because the Internet succeeded:
- The answer (if not the truth) is out there: We don’t know everything, but it seems like we do. And the times when so much data and information were expensive and rare are gone.
- No blind dates: If I have your name, I can google you (sometimes minutes after we meet). And if you are important (potential mate, employer, employee, neighbor), I know a lot about you.
- Lies are more vulnerable: Nonsense takes root (see my last blog), but I rarely go through a day where I don’t see someone check a statement (on TV, in a meeting, in a conversation) for accuracy.
- Good (and bad) ideas are infectious: If it is fun, odd or thought provoking, it will go viral.
- If you have talent, you have no excuses: Platforms to show off talent (blogs, YouTube, e-magazines, podcasts, open source communities, app servers, etc.) are ubiquitous. You’ve got your opportunity to succeed.
- Little brother is watching: It used to be you had to be a celebrity for your public offenses to be caught on camera and broadcast. Now, everyone is armed with a camera and a way to reach the world. If you do something stupid, rude, cruel or embarrassing, it may just go viral.
- Barriers (time, organization, space) are not absolute: Walls have come down. People used to be separated by power, social class, distance and “working hours.” Today, chances are, I can reach you if I really want to. With few exceptions, we are all accessible.
This is not a complete list of the post-network realities they have ingrained themselves in our culture. Our lives have changed in many ways, and I suspect that some are not visible to most people yet. But this set has created the first floor on the foundation, and it both enables and transforms what augmented reality, biocompatible electronics, smart dirt and dozens of other succeeding generations of technology will achieve. Most importantly, the culture is primed to absorb these changes more quickly than ever before.