Growing pains of the internet – watershed moments in cyberspace


Look back on those early TV news features that first discussed the internet and it is like revisiting a different universe. People struggled to see what it was, and while it certainly seemed a novel curiosity, nobody imagined it would change the world in the way it has.

The shocking thing is that it has all happened in three decades. Compare that with the development of, for example, the motor car. This was first available in 1886, but it was not till the post-war years, some 60 years later that car ownership became the norm. The rapid creation and expansion of the information superhighway has not been without its bumps and challenges. Here, we take a look at some of the most dramatic.

Changing the way we shop

Jeff Bezos was the first to identify the potential of the internet to provide more than information. In 1994, he launched an online bookshop called Cadabra. When people kept misreading it a “Cadaver” he changed it to the much more snappy Amazon. It started out with Bezos and 11 pioneering assistants packing boxes from his garage in Bellevue. Today, the man is worth an estimated $130 billion.

Bursting the bubble

Bezos was by no means the only internet entrepreneur in the late 90s. Thousands followed him online with business startups that seemed certain to lead them to riches. Unfortunately, as is the case with any sort of new business, only the best enjoyed long term success. Worse, though, was the fact that the financial institutions got caught up in the hype. It all contributed to the dotcom bubble bursting and the financial crash of 2001.

Games people play

Even in the pre-internet age, there was one purpose above all others to which people put their home computers. Forget the household accounts, it was all about games like Frogger, Ghosts n Goblins, Football Manager and the rest. The advent of the internet just added more gaming opportunities,  and some had their darker sides. Look at online casinos, for example. Today, they are regulated, well managed and probably more secure than land based ones. They are based in dozens of countries and contain thousands of games, so if you want to visit a Thai casino online and learn how to play Sic Bo the best way, you can do so in safety. Back in the 1990s, however, it was more like the wild west, with shady gaming rooms that were unregulated and liable to disappear without notice.

The rise of mobile

Mobile internet first became available in the late 90s, but those early WAP pages were painfully slow and impractical. The advent of the smartphone age changed all that, and has also proved to be one of the biggest challenges to webmasters. No sooner had they got to grips with what constituted a good website that would attract customers than they had to change their perspectives. Today, more than half of internet traffic is from mobile handsets, and the age of the app has quietly overtaken browser usage.

Change is the only constant

 These are just a few of the key moments that have shaped our lives online since 1991. We can’t predict what the future holds, but we can say with confidence that by 2030, we’ll have a whole new set of watershed moments to look back on.

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