As always, many thanks for your thoughtful comments that you left in the earlier parts; we're all reading your comments very carefully.
Network Technology changed the world
As companies and entire industries have gone online, the world has become a much smaller, more efficient place. Tasks that only a couple of decades ago would have taken hours to complete now take a matter of minutes or even seconds. This increased efficiency has made people’s lives safer, longer, more productive, and, in many ways, more enjoyable.
In addition to all these positive effects, network technology has allowed information to be shared at nearly unimaginable speeds. This free exchange of information is leading to technological advancements that are drastically improving nearly every aspect of our lives.
There are plenty of people around today who remember a time when international calls were a luxury reserved for special occasions. Back in the mid-20th century, making an international call was a bit of an ordeal. First, you had to leave your nice, warm house and proceed to a telephone office. Once there, you had to grab a card and wait for a phone booth to open up. After that, you had to wait for the operator to connect you to whomever you were calling.
From all accounts, the phone call itself was like shouting into a cave, with your own voice often reverberating back at you from the telephone speaker like a flock of angry bats. The person on the other end of the line was typically so difficult to hear that callers often joked that every long distance phone conversation took place twice in one call, as nearly every sentence had to be repeated at least once.
On top of all this, chances are that the phone company operator was listening in occasionally during the call, so they could disconnect you when the phone call was over. (The grandmother of one of my friends worked as an international switchboard operator, and he says that she has fantastic stories about some of the phone calls she listened to over the years.) Finally, when the call ended, you left your booth and paid a very hefty fee for each minute you’d been on the phone.
Nowadays, there are many different ways to have an international conversation with a friend from the comfort of your couch, using your very own smartphone, tablet, or computer. You can chat with your friend using one of the numerous chat services like Google Talk or Facebook chat, text your buddy instantly using the text feature included on every phone since the 90s, call your friend using your phone’s regular dialing feature, or even use Skype, Google Voice, or any of the other freely available VOIP international calling services.
In addition to having your pick of services, you can also have every one of these conversations with little to no call interference and nobody listening in (except for maybe the United States’ and/or your own country’s National Security Agency). Best of all, many international calls can be made completely free of charge. International calls are just one small example of how network technology has changed an industry. Here are a few more examples that come to mind.
Networked Technologies are Optimizing Humanity
Think back to a time before Google, if you can. Imagine that you needed to find a piece of information. This information could have been an answer to a question about the world or perhaps the name and location of a store that carried a product you needed. Chances are that, to answer the question, you had to consult an encyclopedia or do something really drastic, like ask another human being. To find the store, you might have checked the local phone book.
Now, think about trying to find absolutely any information, product, or service today. Where would you go first? Personally, I’d type whatever it is that I’m looking for into the built-in search box on my internet browser, and Google would probably find exactly what I’m looking for and put it on the very first search page. This process gets more efficient every day since Google’s algorithms and access to content are second to none. Consequently, a search that would have taken minutes twenty years ago (or even hours, for harder to answer questions and harder to find products) is now completed in a matter of seconds with a much higher chance of success.
Next, let’s think about how you used to buy books (and many other items frequently purchased, nowadays). If your friend told you about a really great book by their favorite author and said that you absolutely had to read it, where would you go to get it? Well, if you were particularly frugal, you might go down to the public library and see if the book was available to check out.
Otherwise, if you wanted to buy the book for yourself, you would have to call the local bookstores to see who had it in stock and then go to purchase it. Alternatively, if, after all this calling around, none of the local book stores had it, you’d have to ask them to order it. This process sometimes took weeks, depending on the popularity of the book. Once the book arrived, they’d call you, and you’d have to drive down to the bookstore to pick it up.
If you want to buy a book today (almost regardless of how hard it is to find), all you need to do is type its name into the search box on Amazon’s website, buy the book online, and, if you’re an Amazon Prime member (which you should be; it’s a great service), you’ll probably have it delivered right to your door within a couple of days or be able to download it instantly to a digital device of your choosing (my personal preference). Even if you’re not a Prime member, you’ll still probably get your book delivered to you in less than a week.
Am I starting to paint a picture for you of how much things have actually changed? Great. Then one more example for good measure won’t hurt. I promise it will be an interesting one.
Let’s say, twenty years ago, you wanted to have a big party one weekend. Imagine that you hadn’t seen a bunch of your friends in a very long time, so you decided to invite all of them to this party and make it a really fancy affair: catering, open bar (because you’re classy like that), the whole nine yards. First, you’d have to figure out which of your friends you actually liked enough to invite to your awesome party. You might search through your contact book and find the people you most wanted to see. After that, you’d search the yellow pages for a venue, call around town to find the right caterer, and then put together invitations and mail them out. If you were lucky or really efficient, preparing for your party would probably end up, at the very least, taking a couple of days.
Now, imagine the exact same party today. You invite all your Facebook friends from your “People I Actually Like” list with a few clicks; search Yelp for a caterer; find and reserve the best venue on Google; and the entire process could be over in a matter of minutes. I’ve already covered Google a bit, but no discussion of how network technology has changed our lives would be complete without touching on the dominant social media platform of our time… Facebook.
While people like to complain about Facebook, sometimes for valid reasons, nobody can argue that it hasn’t revolutionized how people build and maintain their network of friends. It’s even redefined the word “friend.” (A common question today being, “Is he just your Facebook friend or your real-life friend?”) And, despite complaints, a lot folks’ lives have been changed for the better because they are a part of Facebook.
In any case, the real point of this last scenario is to show how an activity that, just a few years ago, would have taken a lot of time and energy to complete could possibly take you just minutes to throw together today. Now, multiply all that saved time billions of times over by the many millions of different people who repeatedly use these services, and you start to get an idea of how big an impact network technology has had across the globe.
Finally, look at everything I’ve written about in this chapter. Twenty years ago, to accomplish all the tasks mentioned, you would have needed an encyclopedia set, a phone book, a clunky old non-portable telephone, transportation to visit physical locations, and a ton of patience. Now, consider how every single thing discussed above can be taken care of from the computer in your home today or on the smartphone in your pocket. And none of these stories even touch on the astonishing benefits that network technology has given to research and development, and has given in support of new technologies across every single profession and field.
To wrap up this chapter, I’ll ask you to think about one more thing and then I swear, I’ll move on. All the stuff we’ve talked about so far has pertained primarily to information-oriented tasks, services, and businesses. At the very least, all the physical items being looked for were small and portable. This lack of physical collateral means that a lot of the businesses discussed were either made in the Internet “cloud” or changed fairly easily to leverage the benefits of the cloud.
But, as network technology has evolved, even businesses with significant physical collateral like hotels, taxi services, and airlines (to name just a few) have started to move the majority of their business online to take advantage of the cloud. This trend will someday result in every single product and service that people want being delivered to a physical location of their choosing, based on a request they make from an electronic device they carry with them probably twenty-four hours a day. The future sounds great, right? A utopia where every person gets whatever they want, whenever they want it?
Well, unfortunately, this is the part where I burst everyone's bubble and talk about the real, imminent, genuinely scary dangers network technology poses to our world, and the highly quantifiable (and accelerating) destruction it’s causing.