age of internet

i used the phrase ‘internet age’ a few moments ago without reflecting on its full implications and it now strikes me that in the future we may refer to the period of time from 1994 – ? as the internet age. if that is the case, what will follow it? and when will that question mark be replaced by a date?

the internet age, in its less public form began decades ago, but i think the term would best fit the era in which the internet received a much-hyped public profile. it is from 1994 onward that the internet has had a tremendous impact on (small parts of) the world.

but what are the characteristics that best represent this age?

  • increased availability and transfer of large quantities of information
  • increased availability of analogue services through electronic means
  • increased instantaneity of information and services
  • increased monitoring of the access and use of this information
  • increased commodification of information and services
  • increased illegal activity stemming from, and relating to, these structures
  • a thousand other things i can’t think of at this moment

my main questions have to do with when this age will reach its apex, what the causation will be, and the social changes (such as infrastructure shift) that will occur as a result.

a guess is that this will happen when the internet is omnipresent on a global scale, with instant access everywhere to both information and services. i’d say we are nearing that age in north america, parts of europe, and the pacific rim due to the proliferation of wi-fi devices and the expansion of broadband (and by this i mean fiber, not dsl). this perception of instantaneity will fully mesh the internet into our lives, with the use of the internet becoming an act that is fluid due to the lack of time lag. by this i mean that a user becomes unaware of their dependence on a resource when its availability is instant. for instance, consider our ability to turn on a tap and have water pour out (or the access to electricity when we plug something in). we take this instantaneous access to resources for granted, marking an age when we seem to have moved beyond it and into another phase. reality is, as with the recent blackout on the east coast, our naïve reliance on technology and infrastructures has created millions of effectively helpless beings (but that is another argument, i suppose).

to return to whatever point i was trying to make, we will be past the internet age when it is absolutely instant, thus invisible to our use of and reliance on.

next question: what will follow this age?

once the internet flows and is utilized like other utilities, that is to say instantly, we will move on to attempt to harness another resource. i would suggest this would be an increased emphasis on the exploration of our boundaries. a greater push to move outward in the solar system, a full study of the deep sea, and more rapid advancements in modifying, maintaining, and extending the biological self. i think the move to instantaneity in regards to biology will be predominant, particularly with epidemiology. this will be exciting and frightening, as disease is destroyed and constructed at a dangerously high pace – dangerous in that fast things have the obvious tendency to spin out of control quickly.

so there’s a look into my cracked and muddy crystal ball. giving any of this stuff serious thought gives one pause as to how our current infrastructures function and how society struggles to transcend basic necessity. however, the thought i always return to is: and millions of people barely have enough to eat, war rages on, and children die due to the lack of basic medical care. perhaps the post-modernized world’s obsession with so-called progress will destroy us, even though we have narrowly escaped death by nuclear age (so far).

if i had the panache of that great social historian eric hobsbawn, i would call this the age of internet.

note: i just did a quick search on that phrase and see that the internet is littered with references to it. i’m completely slow on the uptake.