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Quantum Leap in Influence

March 11, 2010

There is no question about it: The internet has profoundly impacted society. More specifically, the World Wide Web–that portion of the internet that involves HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and links for jumping from one document to another–has revolutionized how we communicate, interact, share, discover, buy, sell, recreate, and the list goes on.

In the 20 short years since the invention of the Web by Tim Berners-Lee, nearly every aspect of our lives has in one way or another been affected by the Web. Watershed technology has a way of doing that to us. Consider the following quote that I recently read in a book about a certain technology:

What has [it] done to us, or for us…? A few effects suggest themselves at once. It has saved lives by getting rapid word of illness, injury, or famine from remote places. …By bringing about a quantum leap in the speed and ease with which information moves from place to place, it has greatly accelerated the rate of scientific and technological change and growth in industry. Beyond doubt it has crippled if not killed the ancient art of letter writing. It has made living alone possible for persons with normal social impulses…. It has made the waging of war chillingly more efficient than formerly. Perhaps (though not provably) it has prevented wars…. Or perhaps–again not provably–…it has caused wars.

Sound like a portrait of the Web? Actually, it is a description of another of society’s watershed technologies–the telephone.

The above quote comes from the book Telephone: The First Hundred Years by John Brooks and published by Harper & Row in 1975. (The book is actually more of a history of the company AT&T.) What I find interesting is the accelerated speed at which technologies come to bear on us over time. It took quite a while for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone to catch on as a popular technology following its invention in 1876. Its consumer appeal really did not pick up until after the turn of the century. The Web, on the other hand, had millions of users across the globe in less than a decade. The influence of technology seems to take quantum leaps with each new development.

At the current pace, perhaps the next great technology (?) will influence society before it even arrives.

Pic by caribb


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