The internet is only about 25 years old. Mobile technology, about a decade. Consider that for a moment. It’s no wonder there are so many people who don’t fully understand how the internet works or even what it is. It might have been funny when Ted Stevens described it as “a series of tubes,” but it has become such an integral part of our everyday lives, it’s probably a good idea to have some idea what it does.
But, there are barriers to our understanding. For starters, not all of us grew up with the kinds of basic, everyday technology we have in our hands right at this moment. Watching someone fumble with a mouse 20 years ago is the equivalent of seeing a baby try to swipe a magazine. It’s weird for everyone.
The good news is we can figure it all out. But, the best place to start is to understand why it can be so difficult.
Reason 1: Technology is complicated.
Perhaps the understatement of a lifetime, but it is important to note because using it SEEMS easy. Tap a screen and get a response. Click a button and send an email across the globe. What underlies this are millions of hours of programming and engineering that are well beyond the comprehension of most people.
As a result, we are forced to tie ourselves and our fortunes to people and companies who know inherently more than we do. That’s scary. It’s one thing to get a car care center to fix your radiator even if you don’t understand how it works. It’s another entirely to have a faceless corporation filtering your emails and seeing your private data. But, we need them and that leaves us in an uncomfortable spot.
The Good News: For now, technology is still built and managed by humans. If you can trust one with your car or your home, you can find the right one to help with your business.
Reason 2: Things change rapidly and without warning.
Uber replacing cabs. Streaming video replacing the TV. Monitoring the security at your house through a phone. These are remarkable developments built around rapidly changing technology. We often marvel at how we would have managed before GPS on the phone, nevermind the actual phone itself. This is the kind of exponential growth that is unpredictable making it harder for us to keep up personally and in business.
The Good News: Despite the radical changes, the construct is still essentially the same. We are trying to communicate with one another in various ways. We are trying new approaches, but the same connections from person to person still apply.
Reason 3: It doesn’t follow the paths we learned in traditional marketing and advertising settings.
For any business wanting to market themselves online, the internet is both a gold mine and a money pit. The right approach can net enormous success while a single tweet could cost you your reputation. Understanding how to navigate this mine field is an entire career path.
The Good News: Advances bring new opportunities and access to ideas and avenues of success previously only available to the monied few. Technology levels the playing field for all of us.
Reason 4: It is a filter-less democracy.
We used to have things filtered for us, now we must act as our own filter for everything from news to music to business. The good news is that everyone gets a voice. The bad news is that EVERYONE gets a voice. It is difficult to know who to believe and even tougher to know who to trust. While the control mechanisms that existed before may have come at a cost (less control, tighter restrictions on information, corruption), at least the offered some stability and clarity. The news cycle, which used to be 24 hours is now 24 seconds and we are racing to keep up.
The Good News: We now have access to ideas and ideologies previously unavailable. We don’t have to travel around the world to seek out new voices, we can do that online. And that is extremely exciting.