Birth, Growth, and a Mid-Life Crisis

My first use of the “Internet” was preparing and submitting payroll through a dialup system when I worked for the state.  It was somewhere around 1985 and I had to wonder how “great” this thing was going to be when it took over an hour to submit a few timesheets into a non-local mainframe.  I was an administrative assistant in those days, and my favorite work tool was my IBM Selectric II typewriter (with correction).

Not too long after that, I got a job at the Red Cross, where there was a computer on every admin assistant’s desk.  By the early 90’s, I was working for a Pharmacy College in their pharmacological database design division, which was funded by pharmaceutical companies in a grant setting.  We created and maintained databases of information related to reactions to medication, as well as studies and data on sales (or lack thereof).  We also maintained a series of bulletin board systems that frequently turned into sex chats.  Those pharmacists…they are a wild bunch!

But those years at the Pharmacy college were what led me to my love of the Internet, and why I still spend an inordinate amount of time there.  In those early days, web pages were being designed, website domains were being purchased (for a lot more money then than they are now), and early development was occurring.  My boss, a rather forward-thinking guy, saw the potential and had us working on web pages in short order.  Those were the days.  Grey background, white or black letters, no images.  Really great reading material – if you wanted to fall asleep!

Ah, how things have changed.  In a few very short years, we now have a system that is used by over a billion people, in all countries on earth.  We watch goofy videos, we share our personal anxieties on social networking sites, we post pictures of our kids or the latest crop of tomatoes on our blogs, and get all the news that is the news from thousands of television/radio/newspaper websites.

Some of us would say that the World Wide Web is in a bit of a crisis these days.  It has grown so fast, and so broadly, that sometimes the technology and legislation haven’t been able to keep up.  Those early days saw explosions of innovation and design and development, completely unfettered by government or regulatory control.  If it was possible with the bandwidth and browser capability, then it could happen.  However, today we are facing more and more regulation, both from the government and from unlikely places like the RIAA, MPAA, ISP’s, and media sources (the AP comes to mind).  The amount of push-back these days is sometimes staggering.  One of the most disconcerting things about the current growth of the Internet is the amount of regulation and “no, you can’t do that” activities.  It is stifling, if not outright killing, innovation in the web space.

It is a mid-life crisis of sorts, and maybe a bit of “going back to the beginning” and removing some of those regulations and controls will open up innovation once again.  After all, haven’t we proven that no matter what obstacles we want to put in place, users and providers will find a way around it?  Is it maybe time to stop worrying about what we need to control, and instead provide the kind of innovative ideas and content people are looking for?  The Internet is not going to die, and it’s not going away either, and no matter how much certain parts of the Internet are despised by certain people, the fact remains that all of this content is popular because of demand from the user side.

The Internet needs a sportscar with the top down, needs to grow out its hair, wear lime-green shorts, and live a little.  That’s what mid-life crises are for.   The Internet is due for its mid-life changes.