The ubiquitous internet

Narrative IndustriesThoughts

The internet is disappearing and that’s mostly a good thing.

When I first got my hands on a modem, back in 1995, and connected my computer to the Information Superhighway it was a fiddly and unreliable process. I used a Mac at the time (a state of the art Quadra 840 Av with 40mhz processor and 32mb of RAM which is about than twenty-five times less powerful a modern iPhone) and Apple had forgotten to add a bit of code which would let my machine speak to the interweb. This meant I had to buy a copy of a magazine like Mac Format, which came with a free CD full of shareware on the cover and included the essential TCP/IP extension.

Once set-up and configured, the modem would burp and cheap as it connected and I would listen to the sounds, expectantly waiting for it to make the particular noise that indicated if it had connected or failed. This would tie-up the phone line and I would not be able to make a phone call until I had disconnected, unless someone tried to call me, whereupon the “call waiting” sound that alerts you to an incoming call, would set off a chain reaction inside the computer and the delicate structure required to maintain a connection would come tumbling down.

This is not unlike early cars which had levers and knobs to adjust fuel/air mixture and timing (advance/retard) and several other controls just to reach 30 miles-per-hour before they broke down. It took 100 years for cars to gain the level of reliability & performance we take for granted today.

It only took the internet a few years and broadband replaced dial-up; wifi replaced ethernet cables; wifi hotspots & 3G/4G mobiles replaced internet cafes until, step by step, the internet became less like a technical challenge and more of an easily accessible conduit through which we can access our information, our entertainment,  our shopping,  our calendars, spoke with our friends, find tasty recipes and, well, everything else.

At the moment it’s the Internet of Things that has people excited. The Internet of Things, is a bit of a buzzword but it’s actually very simple to understand because all it really means is that the internet is getting increasingly hidden; the Internet of Things is internet ubiquity where the devices we use and the places we go are connected, using the the global network to make things easier and more reliable…. ideally it will be more to our personal liking too, without requiring us to do very much.

Think of it a bit like modern cars which can automatically detect if it’s dark outside and turn their headlights on accordingly, or that it’s raining and the sets the appropriate wiper speed… The Internet of Things is kind-of the same thing but on a  much grander, personalised and monetised scale.

There’s already plenty of this going on the connected home is fairly mainstream, with Nest & Sparq Solar amongst others who give you information and control over how your house is using energy. There are connected cars that beam information back and forth to the manufacturer about performance and software updates and there’s the Sky or Virgin Media/Tivo box in your living room which you can control over the web. It’s been coming for a long time, and it’s still got a long way to go, but the internet of today is ingrained into our lives and our devices so much already that we get surprised when a shop doesn’t know our regular order or you have to adjust the car seat after someone else has been in it (yes, I know Mercedes have had individual user preferences for a while but they don’t recognise you automatically… yet).

Even Google’s Eric Schmidt commented the inevitability that the internet will disappear at Davos.

We are giving up control of our communication to gain convenience in the way we gave up the ability to fix our cars ourselves in favour of reliability and speed.

I look back fondly on the old days and I loved that I had control and that it took some special knowledge. I could strip and rebuild the old Triumph Spitfire that I had as a teenager, but I think I would have preferred it not to break down quite so often in the first place. Like early internet connectivity it was unreliable, idiosyncratic and required constant adjustment making it entirely impractical for everyday usage but, given the chance and the time, I’d quite like to have that iold Triumph Spitfire back again, just for occasional use and because I do like to tinker.