Rapid growth in a decade
Think back to what you were using the internet for ten years ago. By January 2006, you were probably dependent on the web for sending emails, but how often were you using it for online banking, shopping, ordering food, video conferencing, streaming TV shows, sharing files, storing photos, filing tax returns, playing games, booking holidays, watching videos, checking in on Facebook or Twitter?
Chances are these online activities came later, seeing as websites like YouTube would have been less than a year old in 2006, Twitter was still a twinkle in its developers’ eyes (it launched in March 2006) and only the earliest of adopters were accumulating friends on Skype, MySpace and Facebook back then (the first two game-changing sites were founded in 2003, with the mighty Facebook launching in 2004, and really gathering momentum by 2006 and 2007).
To say that the digital world has grown in the past decade is a bit like saying Larry David can occasionally lack tact.
David Bowie’s precognition
Someone who spotted the virtually limitless potential of the internet very early on was David Bowie, who launched his own internet service provider BowieNet back in 1998. It was a dial-up service, available through a subscription, and promised “uncensored” access to the internet, via the website www.davidbowie.com. Subscribers even got an email address in the format email@example.com; a must for the hardcore Bowie follower.
The year after launching his ISP, Bowie told Jeremy Paxman in an interview:
“I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg with the internet. I think the potential of what the internet is going to do to society – both good and bad – is unimaginable. I think we’re actually on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying. [. . .] The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can really envisage at the moment. Where the interplay between the user and the provider will be so in simpatico, it’s going to crush our ideas of what mediums are all about.”
Not for the first time, Bowie’s soothsayer skills were reliable. He was acutely aware of the possibilities and opportunities that the digital realm would offer – as well as the pitfalls.
Only this week rioting broke out in Paris following strikes across France, Belgium and Spain as taxi drivers protested against what they consider to be unfair competition from the smartphone app, Uber. The digital service allows customers to book cabs via their phones, which traditional taxi drivers have strongly objected to, saying it cuts out the need for regulations, and loses them work. While French cabbies have been up in arms about the “American cowboys” running Uber – now the world’s biggest taxi company, despite not owning any cars – there are plenty signs of disruption caused by the digital world elsewhere. Airbnb is the world’s biggest accommodation provider, and it doesn’t own any rental properties, Facebook is the most popular media owner, and doesn’t generate its own content, while the biggest sellers of software, Google and Apple don’t write the apps.
Adapting to the ch-ch-changes
As the digital realm expands, how can we ensure we’re up to speed with the changes? The need to arm ourselves with knowledge of the online revolution is stronger than ever, as it impacts on our social, economical and professional lives. Rather than being at the mercy of digital technology, what if you could master it? Courses on programming, app design, software development and website management are becoming increasingly popular as they enable students to decipher the daunting language of digital – and ultimately speak it properly, on their own terms. David Bowie said we were “on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying” back in 1999, so when 2019 rolls around, it’s comforting to know there are ways and means of navigating through the myriad ch-ch-changes in the digital realm. Bowie said we can be heroes, but in the meantime we can at least get ourselves ready for whatever surprises the digital future holds.