I can remember turning on my computer, dialing into IndyNet, and opening the World Wide Web inside of a terminal window. My first web experience was through a text browser. At $10 a month, that was all I could afford. Eventually, I learned to hack it and give myself access to the graphical side of the web and my first experience with Netscape Navigator.
Back then, web sites usually consisted of long single pages with mostly text, a few static images scattered about, some horizontal rules, and maybe an animated GIF, if you were lucky. For those of you too young to remember, I am not reminiscing about the 70s or even the 80s. It was not until the 90s when the World Wide Web burst onto the scene, drawing people away from their television sets for the first time in a way that nothing else before it could.
When I graduated from Lawrence Central High School in 1996, our school still did not have Internet access available to students. Only two years later, in 1998, universities were offering high-speed Internet access across their campuses, in dorm rooms and even in family housing. By the time I graduated in 2000, I was addicted to high speed Internet and could never dream of going back to dial-up. DSL was not yet widely available. So, I subscribed to cable Internet access, and never looked back.
Since then we have seen a revolution, both in distribution of and access to information. Encyclopedia salesmen used to travel door-to-door promising to unlock tens of volumes worth of knowledge to their customers. Such information is now accessible with the click of a button. Moreover, few would be satisfied if the Internet only offered them encyclopedic knowledge. They expect more: more details, more photos, more video, more social interaction, and more personal insight.
The turn of the century was described as the “Information Age” when knowledge was literally at an individual’s fingertips. The immense power that information provides an individual was evident by the premium Internet services that emerged, turning some ordinary citizens into millionaires. But with great power, comes great responsibility.
When the Internet was in danger of becoming nothing more than a commodity, a revolution quietly began. The phenomenon that people call Web 2.0 is really only the technical side of it. It is much more than new technology. People made a conscious decision to keep information and the tools to access it free. They formed organizations such as the Free Software Foundation and the Electronic Frontier Foundation long before the term Web 2.0 was even envisioned. This led to innovations such as Creative Commons and Wikipedia.
In 2009, newspapers are on the verge of collapse; the music industry is floundering; movies are shared through BitTorrent before they are even released in theaters, and the cable television mega-corporations are lashing out with a vengeance. They have learned little from the past. Those who resist progress fade into the annals of history, and so some have chosen to embrace it. What has emerged are DRM-free online music stores, online television content providers, and the hundreds of newspapers and media outlets providing nearly real-time coverage of events around he world, free of charge.
People of the 21st century want content when and where they want it. They want to be able to watch Heroes or Dancing With The Stars from their laptops in coffee shops or their mobile phones on a train. They want streaming up-to-date news at the push of a button. They want to download a song, pass it on to a friend’s MP3 player, and then upload it to their social network site to share with their 500 other friends. They are no longer satisfied with one news station’s account of events in a war zone, when actual footage from a witness’ cellphone is captured and uploaded to YouTube.
People want seamless, real time, unrestricted content, access, and portability. The future beyond the Information Age is the age of global connectivity. The only question is, will you be part of this new movement or part of what we must move aside to make room for it?