Short, medium and long-term views about the Internet

Is the Internet a new technology that we have to integrate into our ways of working and learning or is it a transformational way of communicating that will change our society forever? The approach from existing software vendors and established organisations is that Internet technologies can help you become more effective and efficient in your current business model through systems for collaborative work (e.g. Sharepoint) or online education (e.g. Blackboard).

Another view is that we are going through a transformation similar to what happened 100 years ago and that the Internet is like the industrial system and will significantly change how we spend our discretionary time (9 hours each day). Here are the predicted shifts from NineShift:

  1. People work from home.
  2. Intranets replace offices.
  3. Networks replace pyramids
  4. Trains replace cars
  5. Dense neighborhoods replace suburbs
  6. New social infrastructures evolve.
  7. Cheating becomes collaboration.
  8. Half of all learning is online.
  9. Education becomes web-based.

These are major changes and it’s hard to argue with most of these predictions, as in the last two years they’re pretty well all coming about. But is the Internet going to have an even greater impact on society? Mark Federman thinks so.

Federman sees the Internet and related electric media as the biggest change since the 16th century and describes it as epochal. According to his research, we are 150 years into a 300 year change into the electric age and the Internet is the point of acceleration of our shift from print-based communications to electric ones. The launch of the Netscape IPO occurred during the “break-boundary” between epochs.

All three perspectives have validity and can be useful. Yes, we can get efficiencies from these new technologies but they are having an impact on how we work and live that will be obvious in the next decade. We should also keep in perspective that life will be significantly different for our children and grand children, which is difficult for many of us to imagine. How could scribes imagine an age of literacy or an oral society watch as the written word extended power and control?

Combining the short, medium and long views may give us a better picture and a framework to help with the decisions we have to make today.

Photo by SMigol

6 Responses to “Short, medium and long-term views about the Internet”

  1. Gary Woodill

    Hi Harold,

    In terms of the nine shifts, in the past 5 years I have gone through 8 of them. The only one that doesn’t work for me personally is the fact that I have moved to the country (a small village) rather than a dense urban neighbourhood. But it is definitely not the suburbs, which Karen and I find deadly.

    However, the problem with predicting the long range future is that all exponential upward curves are in danger of becoming S-curves or even sharp peaks because of the occurence of “black swans”. Some of the unpredictable events that might unrail any positive view of the future include the present financial crisis going through a permanent phase change to a collapse in major systems, terrorism going nuclear, or global warming accelerating out of control. Then all projections of the effects of a technology like the Internet become not so important.

    We like to think that what we are working on is significant. Survival trumps all when things are on the edge of chaos. The future is likely not going to be anything that we have imagined.

  2. Harold Jarche

    Good points, Gary. Things like Black Swans or the effects of tightly coupled global systems, including environmental systems, can really throw a wrench in the works. A major fork in the road to the future would be a world with an open Internet and one without. This post is obviously biased toward one possible future.

  3. Jacques Cool

    This post and ensuing comments make me reflect on one thing in particular : OMG, what are schools doing in the meantime? For a ‘typical’ school and ‘typical’ teacher (i.e. that are still very much in line with the horse buggy-era portrayed on the Nine Shift book cover), unfortunately, all of this is science fiction to them. If schools are ostriches to these changing times, will they contribute in the rise of those Black Swans? These comments might seem a bit simplistic but we must continue working hard in shaking the school foundation in order to bring it into the 21st century… in the name of human survival, maybe…

  4. Michael Kaisaris

    People work from home – check, I get to write off the rent from my 2nd bedroom

    Intranets replace offices – check, Basecamp is our corporate headquarters

    Networks replace pyramids – check, each of us helps to create everyones to-do lists each week.

    Trains replace cars – more like feet, Fedex, and Skype replace cars, because three of five of us live in downtown Vancouver, and the others live off continent.

    Dense neighborhoods replace suburbs – see last entry

    New social infrastructures evolve – my favorite is the torrent, but the blog and Facebook are potential winners. Which of these technologies will have the longevity of…say, marriage, or, on the dark-side, slavery.

    Cheating becomes collaboration – Googledocs and Buzzwords, but where will this leave technologies like Turnitin?

    Half of all learning is online – I would add “adult” as a caveat to that statement. I can’t see why we would want to teach children to read online, or tie their shoes.

    Education becomes web-based – there are still some things that online education can’t replicate, and to be quite honest I don’t think I want it to. The scouting movement for example, or geology. I have a feeling field schools, and other excursions will be come more common as we move more of our learning into the cloud.


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