Monday, May 31, 2010

The Internet is Bigger Than the Lightbulb

The Internet is bigger than the lightbulb, but its effects are subtler (and colored by the massive popularity of porn, Facebook, etc.).

When I was growing up, I had two choices for getting "news". I could read the newspaper each morning (which I did) and I could watch either network or local news on VHF (channels 2-13, for those who remember when TVs had dials).

If I wanted to get a book, I had to convince my mom to drive me to the bookstore or the library.

When I wanted to communicate with someone, I could use the rotary dial telephone or write a physical letter. Calling someone long distance was an unheard-of luxury.

The only people I knew outside of my home town were our relatives.

Now consider the world today.

I can always access the latest news. I don't even need to go to a computer, since my phone provides a conduit to the world.

I can access pretty much any publication in the world for free online. My television has 1,000 channels, and the entire world's collection of video is available online.

When I want a book, I can order it and instantly start reading it on a handheld computer. And more books than in the Library of Alexandria are available for free.

I can talk with anyone in the world at practically zero cost. For example, I have a certain friend who is spending some time in Chile--in my youth, I would have to rely on receiving physical letters via airmail to stay in touch!

I have instant access to the thoughts and life events of hundreds or even thousands of people, and vice versa. I know people from places all over the world.

In terms of access to information, interconnectivity, and the ability to publish to a global audience, I would argue that the Internet is every bit as transformative as the electric lightbulb or internal combustion engine.

(Originally posted as a comment on this Ben Casnocha blog post on the slowing pace of change and innovation)


Paul said...

"The only people I knew outside of my home town were our relatives."

had this alone been your entire argument, you still would have pretty much convinced me. (thank God for the lightbulb though ... can you even imagine?)

Chris said...


Oh yes, I am a big fan of the lightbulb as well. Definitely not dissing the lightbulb!

Andrea said...

I've been meaning to write this post for months. The people who dis the internet ("it's separating us from our families," "it's causing us to not read long books," "it's a stupid waste of time," blah blah blah) drive me nuts.