WRITTEN BY CHRISS W. STREET
The proliferation of Internet connections over the last twenty years caused massive societal changes. Developing slowly from the 1950s as closed networks of military and academic computers were electronically wired to transfer data, free tools for accessing the Internet became publicly available in 1993. This disruptive technology had profound effects on globalized commerce, signaling a revolution in the production and flow of goods and services. As the Internet matures, change is now a constant.
On April 30, 1993 the World Wide Web free tools were made available to the public. Rudimentary forms of computers talking to computers began in the 1950s as academic demonstration projects funded by the United States military. Technological, scientific and philosophical advances have always been accelerated by the exchange of distant ideas and information. The Middle Ages were Dark for Europe, but the caravan trade between China and the Caliphate of the Moors drove the expansion of wealth and culture. Sailing ships spread trade and colonialism. Railroads united continents and led to the rise of the nation state. The telephone made communications instantaneous. The Internet has made all information and ideas available to the worldwide masses.
No single person, organization or country can track of the sheer volume and breadth of the information available on the Internet or control the exponential speed at which it multiplies and evolves. Nobel Prize Winner Paul Krugman in 1998 foolishly said:
“The growth of the Internet will slow drastically, as the flaw in “Metcalfe’s law”–which states that the number of potential connections in a network is proportional to the square of the number of participants–becomes apparent: most people have nothing to say to each other! By 2005 or so, it will become clear that the Internet’s impact on the economy has been no greater than the fax machine’s.”
The Internet is amoral to the distribution of intellectual truth and/or scholarly fraud. The rapid exchange of information can crush government tyranny or destabilize personal liberty. Al-Qaeda offered on-line bomb-making tradecraft for Boston student-terrorists. Crowd sourcing on the Reddit social network identified the perpetrators.
As governments and global businesses continue to embrace the rapid development of devices that promote constant connectivity to broader networks, vulnerability to theft of information, disruption of daily activities or destruction of property increases.
The Internet is indifferent to geographic borders. The electronic controls that are now used in the vast majority of key infrastructural and security elements, from power plants and electrical grids to military satellites, have introduced a new level of vulnerability. Cyber-crime is now the preferred method of theft and cyberwarfare will be the chosen mode of battle for the 21st Century. The Stuxnet virus attack on Iran proved more successful in delaying building nuclear weapons than aerial bombardment.
The Internet signaled a revolution in the production and flow of goods and services. Supply chains have gone international and product cycles are shrunk. Profit per transaction is constricted by greater competition from a broader number of suppliers, but the scale of the market is now the world. Previously, retailers had to forecast what consumers would demand in order to ensure sufficient supplies for point of sale transactions. The advent of the Internet allows retailers to stock just-in-time inventory and the flexibility to make the point of sale a virtual on-line store.
No country has benefited more from the impact of the Internet than China, which last year became the largest destination for foreign direct investment, after the United States held the crown from 1870 to 2011. As the Soviet Union and communism collapsed in the early 1990s, China launched Socialism with Chinese Characteristics to justify embracing capitalism. In the first two decades of public access to the Internet, world GDP rose 250%, global imports rose 400% and China’s GDP rose 600%.
The Internet’s future is being hotly debated. A 2010 cover story in Wired magazine asserted: “The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet.” to argue the World Wide Web was “in decline” and proprietary “apps” from were in ascendance. The authors failed to predict that three years later Samsung Galaxy phones running Android open-source software would trounce the proprietary Apple I-Phone. The peer-generative Web where everyone is free to create what they want is thriving. Despite government and corporate efforts to take control for their own benefit, the future of the Internet will continue to be driven by the non-monetary incentives of expression, attention and reputation.
CHRISS STREET & PAUL PRESTON
“THE AGENDA 21 RADIO TALK SHOW”
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