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Using Technology

November 13 2009

emailThe history of the Internet is a story of inverse proportion; as technology accelerates, the barriers to it—both monetary and technological—shrink. During one of my CRT presentations, I lead off by asking, “Who has been using email since 1971?” Only once has someone raised their hand. And while you may be wondering who would be naive enough to think that they could have been emailing since then, the lore of the Internet traces the first use of email back to the summer of 1971. So now, I ask you, "Why weren’t you using email back then, or even in 1991?"

I lead off with that example because it clearly demonstrates what I’m discussing: technically, there was nothing to prevent people from sending email back in 1971. If you look at a timeline of the Internet, you can see that many of the services that we take for granted today and which we often perceive as only a couple of years old have actually been around for quite some time. Many times, a “new” technology merely refers to an old technology with a new label, a sign that it has reached the mainstream. But because technology takes some time to enter the mainstream, most people either aren’t aware of what’s possible or consider the cost too unreasonable.

Social Networking is a prime example of this trend. Technically, email is a basic form of social networking. Who hasn’t gotten a randomly forwarded resume of a person who is a friend’s friend’s friend? And email has been around since the 70’s. AOL even dates from the mid 80’s, though they really didn’t hit the critical mass until the 90’s. But from the 70’s to the 80’s, the barrier to entry for an individual significantly decreased, both monetarily and in terms of knowledge. The most basic computer cost a few thousand dollars in the early 90’s; today you can get a desktop easily for under $1,000 (and even that is expensive). And that’s before the per-minute toll charges for a dial-up connection with a modem. Imagine what your monthly phone bill would be spending your now-daily 2.5 surfing hours connected via modem. Not to mention how much that time would multiply because the connection is so slow.

And that’s just the price-tag part of the equation. To actually connect to these usenet or bulletin board systems (bbs), one needed some techie know-how, and sometimes even an invitation to ‘join the secret club.’ And it wasn’t about point-n-click. Initially, you needed to get under the hood, setting up modem ports, and dealing with baud rates, oh my! But as technology advanced, these tasks got easier and easier. Remember Web-Tv? It promised ease of use: plug a little box into your TV and phone and you were online instantly!

The same is true for social networking and many of the new trendy services and “need to join” communities out there. Blogging, for all intents and purposes, started the day the World Wide Web was created (1989). But at first, you needed to have hardware and the know-how to create your own presence on the ‘Net'—a server with the software to run websites, an Internet connection, and a knowledge of how to create a webpage. A few years later, services developed to help you with all that: enter, and As these features got more and more accessible, the numbers of people using them and how they could be used grew. The technology started to reach the masses. Then the term ‘Weblog’ was coined in 1997 and a tidal wave of bloggers started in 1999.

Have you been blogging since 1991, when the concept was started, or even since the late 90’s when you could simply just post your thoughts on your own little corner of the Web? Sometimes it’s easy to forget that everything we are doing on the Internet is simply an extension of our real world persona applied online. It isn’t really new, but now it’s easier to do and more geared towards the masses. But along with that, as a technology is increasingly adopted, the impact you can make with it decreases. Being the number one blogger in your area is simpler when you are one of the first versus when you are one of the multitudes. So it might be a good idea to always be on the lookout for emerging trends, because those are your best shot at moving forward and they can really help define how you embrace technology.

As a quick addendum to these thoughts, I leave you with the The Machine is Us/ing UsThe Machine is Us/ing Us video. While you watch it, try to note the point when you stop understanding or are familiar with everything that they are referencing. Then think, how much earlier in the video that point would have occurred 5 years ago, or 10 years ago. With that in mind, and just imagine how, 3 years from now, you could watch that video and say, ’Yeah, duh, who isn’t writing their grocery list in XML, importing it into the ‘cloud’ and tagging it?”

Published by Chris McKeever: Click here to see original post.