The internet as a social force is poorly understood. Only 15 years ago, commentators pooh-poohed the potential of the internet. Even now, many expect a completely web-enabled global society to be largely similar to what came before.
It’s not the same.
Geography, costs, and information scarcity used to enable small cliques to gain power and influence over entire countries. One of the differentiators between Ivy League universities and their competitors used to be that the elite enjoyed larger libraries.
It used to be a signifier of wealth, knowledge, and power to horde books in stacks.
Now, those libraries are anachronisms. A peasant in India with an internet connection now has access to – for all intents and purposes – an infinite wealth of knowledge. That poor person can have more access to information today than the best-connected professor in 1990.
Anyone with a Twitter account can start a conversation and build a relationship with some of the most accomplished and intelligent people in the world.
It used to be crucial to know the right people, to be born into the right family, to go to the right schools, and to study under the correct professors. That aspect of life is fast becoming irrelevant.
The freedom of information makes it far more expensive – and nearly impossible – for organizations predicated on the control of information to wield nearly as much power and influence as in the past.
Pervasive connectivity allows people anywhere in the world to get their needs met faster and at a lower price. The cost of production, research & development, and transportation are generally tiny compared to the immense challenge of marketing products and services. The internet’s primary function is to lower those transaction costs.
If a buyer wants something, the internet can probably deliver it to them.
The primary challenge that we all face in putting technology to work for human purposes isn’t a lack of innovation. It’s in using the networks to provide services that improve lives. It’s in training people to use new tools. It’s in making technology “cool,” and a part of everyday life.
Once, the car was a niche product. So was the horse-drawn plow.
The internet never moved much when it was mostly composed of nerds talking to each other.
Now that the internet is everyone, it opens up more possibilities. And the network can be expected to grow even further. There are still billions of people out there who are still unconnected. As more people join the web, prosperity will increase – regardless of the problems in international finance and politics.
If you’re concerned about where you’ll be able to find new opportunities in a strained economy, invest in the network that ties everything together.
As long as people are trading, they’ll need a network to communicate on.
That’s where to focus your efforts.