The following is a series of pieces exploring different aspects of the evolution of the internet as we know it, along with our evolution to having this new tool present in our lives. Though it currently is broken up into 7 parts, this may change as things occur to me that I hadn’t considered before. Therefore, it’s an open-ended project.
One of at least a couple that I have in the works. I hope you enjoy it.
Information Distribution In The Age Of Algorithms – Part 1
We are bearing witness to a very interesting time in human history. In fact, in terms of information sharing, the paradigm in which we live in is as influential as the birth of the process itself VIA the printing press. Looking back from some point down the road, I sense that the period between the mid to late ’90s and onward will be seen a turning point in terms of information distribution and the media landscape. The period when the main influence-rs switched from a select few to the majority.
Having grown up with these tools (or at least have seen them evolve before our very eyes) can desensitize a person to the huge shift that has just taken place. The shift where what was previously only science fiction, became an everyday day to day reality. Like the telephone or electricity, it is just another invisible layer to modern-day existence. While the tools are now normal to all but the most stubborn (or the least privileged. May as well be honest) of us, the journey of how we got here is an important one.
When it comes to mass distribution of information, the printing press was a powerful tool. One not to be taken lightly, should one be a King or otherwise a leader with a wish for unquestioned influence. A big reason why the printing presses of the world (along with all subsequent mass information distribution inventions that followed, excluding one) ended up under very strict control. Newspapers, radio and eventually television had big promise, and as such, they were relegated to the tight security of private corporations and government bodies.
So it went on until ARPANET was born (thanks to research funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (hence ARPA) and the US Department of Defence. They developed the first network to utilize the TCP/IP protocol, which would become the basis for the modern day internet.
Though the information availability landscape started to shift as access to computers was becoming more ubiquitous, the phenomenon didn’t explode until the period between around 2002 and 2006. The time frame when household broadband, WiFi and portable device access (along with the birth of the smartphone revolution) became realities accessible to the average consumer. This time also saw the birth of what are still some of the most populated and heavily trafficked social media and utility platforms of the internet. Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and all the other anchors of today were just getting started. Seemingly overnight, every one of us went from being forced to consume what content looks best (often from an overall pile of crap), to be able to consume or create anything.
What was once simply the media became the legacy media. And participation in what was seemingly a universal activity just a few years earlier (paying for a cable television subscription) suddenly became a relic of a past generation. While cable television is often still a part of Gen X and Baby Boomer entertainment diets, the same can not be said for most ageing out post-Gen X. Though it started with us millennial’s, it’s only more pronounced as newly minted generation Z is now starting to age out into adulthood. I don’t know what comes after, but they may well be amazed by the concept of entertainment for 100% tailored to them.
Given this, the current model has a WHOLE lot of money tied up in legacy television infrastructure of which may well become obsolete in 20 or 30 years. It will be interesting to see how this game changer pans out. In North America, many of the most ubiquitous ISP’s also have huge investments in such infrastructure, so you naturally see increasingly thinly veiled attempts to stamp out this bitter new reality to their old business model. And with net neutrality as good as gone in the United States (at least at the time of this writing), ISP’s will not even need to veil their mitigation as traffic management or some other nonsense.
Though it is a sector filled with uncertainty, I am certain of one thing… those who keep hedging their bets on past business models WILL be the Blockbuster Video of tomorrow. It’s not a matter of if, it is a matter of when.