Ah autumn! It is during this season that I tend to reflect more on my past, and for things I am truly thankful for. Of course, topping this list are my family, close friends, and work that I am truly passionate about. As I often reflect on the role of technology in the daily lives of a large portion of the planet, a recent addition to this list of thanks is the Internet.
Technology has always been present in my life. The possibilities of technology as platforms for discovery, communication of ideas, and creation have fascinated me going all the way back to the 1970s, when I first started playing rudimentary video games and first laid hands on an Apple II - leading to my Commodore VIC-20 in 1980. While the first home computers provided mostly a solitary experience, the advent of faster and cheaper modems allowed consumers to broaden their reach to Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) into the early 1990’s. This provided access to new communities, new thoughts, and new experiences, but they were limited by geography.
It was in 1994 that I realized that things were about to drastically change. I remember where I was when I first booted up a Mosaic browser on a grey scale monitor at my office and managed to surf to a site that displayed the Dead Sea Scrolls. The impact of this was immediate and forceful: thanks to the Internet, I was witnessing an ancient artifact from my chair that was located on the other side of the planet. My reach was now global.
Fast forward to the present day and the Internet has grown to become the most transformative communication platform in the history of mankind. Today, individuals can broadcast a message to the planet, meet with great minds from all corners of the globe, experience different cultures, and reconnect with old friends from the comfort of their living rooms or their local coffee shop. It has become ubiquitous and it has changed the face of global industries - from music to manufacturing - in ways we could not predict, faster than we imagined.
The rapid growth of the Internet has led to tremendous understanding and sharing, and increased our view from a window into our backyards, to a window into the world. This is exciting. This is inspiring.
The next great leaps forward will manifest through a world of web connected and web aware devices and services. The potential to improve our lives through the connected fabric of the “Internet of Things” is staggering. Some impressive examples include the acceleration of medical research through protein folding on PS3 game consoles, and micro-loans that allow business to start up in even the most impoverished of nations.
But there are also very (seemingly) basic ways the Internet has eased my daily routine – and that of others - that I am immensely thankful for. From online bill payment and account management, to keeping track of my friends and family on social networks and email, to providing a source of entertainment for my three kids (and myself) on long trips, the Internet is being woven into every aspect of our environment. And there’s little argument that it will be critical to the advancement of human knowledge and discovery moving forward.
So, in addition to my family, my friends, and my work, I am thankful that the Internet continues to be an important growing and evolving presence. How we use the Internet to better our lives and the lives of future generations is up to each and every one of us.
This week, as most of us in the U.S. prepare to gather with family and friends, and perhaps do a bit of shopping, think about the role that the Internet plays in these experiences and why we should all be thankful for it. Please send me your comments on what you come up with.