As I’ve been reading The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson, I’ve become transfixed by the impact that the Internet has had on the world since its discovery. I’ve taken time to think about the many tech companies that have risen to mass fame because of the Internet and I’ve reached a personal conclusion…the Internet has served as a magical tool to advancing age old industries since its inception into modern business.
In this column, I’ll provide examples of where the Internet has already pushed major strides in innovation. Then I’ll propose areas of the world where I still see potential for the Internet to transform the way we are currently living our lives.
Transportation and the Internet Evolution
Perhaps you even still live in an area of the country where Uber and its subsequent competitiors have not yet broken through the local government to make their presence known.
Before mobile car hailing services, transportation was greatly dependent on taxi cab companies that were linked to large dispatcher stations located within their respectable cities. These companies continue to operate in most areas of the world, but Uber and its competition are proposing true competition to the age-old taxi model.
The taxi system was not capitablizing on the use of the emerging Internet leading it to become an inefficient and overcharged system of personal transportation. What happens when inefficiency occurs? Frustration. What happens when an innovator is frustrated? They find a solution. That’s exactly what Travis Kalanick did as he founded the idea that would turn into Uber.
The Internet evolution allowed mobile applications to be developed that disrupted the personal transportation and taxi industry. We continue to live through the aftermath of Uber’s initial popularity. We will see where the innovation leads us over the next 20 years. Will we eventually see the disappearance of private taxi companies? One can only hope.
Retail and the Internet Evolution
Do you remember when Amazon Prime did not exist? Sure you do. It really wasn’t that long ago.
Before the 1990s, most people in the United States and around the world still greatly relied on physical retialers for all of their shopping needs. Out of diapers and need more? Time to hop in the car and drive down to the local Walmart or Target. Need a gift for someone’s birthday. Time to head over to the mall and get some shopping done.
Around the mid 1990’s as the dot com boom was looming, online commerce started to build its foundation. eBay and Amazon were in their founding years along with hundreds of other online retailers banking on the potential payout of the Internet.
Again, we witness what happens when entrepreneurs see the possibility of a better solution to a true and tried way of living. Computer scientists teamed up with business minded individuals to built a new industry, eCommerce, that would subsequently sweep across the nation over the next 20 year.
These innovative groups of individuals had the novel idea that consumers should be able to search for a product on Google, find the best possible link to another website, and then purchase that good…all on the Internet. Woah! Talk about a magical leap forward for retail…all because of the Internet.
Traveling and the Internet Evolution
How did one buy a plane ticket before the Internet existed? Did you call the airline and place the order on the phone? Did you go directly to the airport to purchase the ticket months before your actual flight? Did you have to go to a travel agent that worked directly with the airlines and had the permission to sell you tickets? All seem like quite the hassle.
With the advent of the Internet and online payment, the way we fly would change forever. Today, we can purchase the ticket online, download it to our phone, scan the phone to get onto the plane, and then continue using wifi while on the plane continuously enjoying the power of the Internet.
Think of all the mini innovations that came as a result of the Internet just in that string of actions, i.e. ticket purchasing, airport check ins, airport security, airline luxuries. All able to move forward because of the Internet and innovative entrepreneurs who weren’t happy with settling how the current system was operated.
Traveling simply would not be the same without the invention of the Internet.
The Libray and the Internet Evolution
Remember when local libraries hosted reading days and they were the only place that you could rent a book you wanted to read? Unbeknownst to me, there may still be reading days, but I can only imagine what they look like today with the innovation of e-readers and digital books.
After stalling to innovate through the Internet, public libraries eventually were forced to embrace the potential of reaching more community members through the Internet. Today, once can order/rent a book from the library in digital form having it delivered to their Nook or Amazon Fire tablet.
The innovation of the library through the Internet has led to hundreds of competing services for people to gain access to digital books, magazines, and encyclopedias, maxopt. As libraries made the decision to embrace the Internet revolution, they made an intelligent and saving step in the direction of not falling too far behind the private companies that were innovating in the space. A common effect of the Internet is the disappearance of old ways of industry that once ruled the way we do things.
The Evolution of the Internet Impacts Us Everyday
I could go on and on listing other industries that have been disrupted by the innovation of the Internet. The list is quite endless and hungry entrepreneurs are finding new sub-industries where they can challenge old ways of thinking through application of the Internet. Granted not all of them will become a success as big as some of the examples I have mentioned in this column, all of the initial thoughts and ideas flow back to one common question,
How can I use the Internet to innovate XYZ industry?
Where Can the Internet Still Make an Impact?
While I appreciate, muse, and learn from the past, I’m very much a forward thinking entrepreneur interested in painting a future better for everyone to come after me…through the use of the Internet. Many entrepreneurs, notably Mark Zuckerburg with Internet.org and Larry Page and Sergey Brin with Project Loon, are already attempting to bring the Internet to the most remote areas of the world so that everyone on the planet can enjoy the information of the web.
Through Internet balloons and infrastructure, Internet.org and Project Loon are attempting to connect the outliers of the world with the power of the Internet. When I think of where I will eventually make a worldly impact, I think of the marriage of the Internet and the mobile technology in the developing world.
Observations From My Experiences in Rural South Africa
In 2010 and 2012, I lived in rural South Africa in the northernmost province of Mpumalanga, almost 7 hours north of Johannesburg. I was living in rural communities just outside of Krugar Park where there was no running water, widespread poverty, a crumbling education system, and high rates of disease such as HIV and tuberculosis. It was a world backwards from where I grew up in Albany, NY.
I was shocked to find that the people already valued and seeked access to the Internet when they had such little access to some of the most basic necessities of the human: clean water, sanitation, and education. When they could, friends of mine from the village would buy airtime from the local shop for their phone so that they could go on Facebook for 10 minutes.
They realized the power that the Internet had to connect them to the rest of the world. They realized that by connecting to the world outside of their community, they had a chance to learn about where they could eventually get. In those communities that sat 2 hours off the beaten path from the next closest major city, they yearned for an opportunity to access the Internet.
The Internet and the Developing World
We’ve already seen it start to happen in countries like India where the personal computer is being leapfrogged for mobile technology. Technology is transforming the ways in which Indians approach their everyday life very much the same way that it swept across America in the 1990’s.
As more and more populations in the developing world gain regular access to the Internet and the eldest generations of the population begin to decease, the potential of the Internet to make a massive impact on sub economies within these developing nations will be profound. From banking to water delivery to education to mass communication, the lives of people will be changed…hopefully for the better.
I see the potential for this global transformation to take place within the next 30 years and I’m excited to be a part of it. I look forward to the day when anyone anywhere in the world can gain access to the Internet. It will be their choice whether they decide to adapt and utilize the Internet to improve their daily lives, but at least it will be an option, where it is not today.