Is anyone actually surfing the Web? Remember when the Internet was in its infancy, and all of the predictions began to surface about how this new, interactive, transcendent medium would change how we would engage information? I do. Is it true? I'm not sure.
medium would change how we would engage information? I do. Is it true? I'm not sure.
Don't get me wrong. In the early days, I loved to surf the Web. I could get started by searching for local weather forecasts and finish an online session having learned about endangered species in the Galapagos. All that was needed for the journey was my imagination. This new medium was to allow everyone with a computer and an idea to have their say. Not since Gutenberg's press did an invention hold such promise for disseminating information and changing civilization itself. The potential to post family vacation photos on my own site was always there and still is.
But then the novelty slowly wore off. Transcendent might still be the adjective to describe an online experience, but other words come to mind too: overwhelming, nonproductive.
A recent article in the New York Times alluded to this ending of the online honeymoon. "The Web has become a routine electronic device," the reporter wrote. "Often, Internet users stick to a half-dozen sites for news, sports scores, airline tickets and other things they need regularly." The evidence is there: The number of Internet users that visit more than 20 Web sites a month is shrinking—down from 60 percent of users last year to little more than half today, according to a Jupiter Media Metrix survey.
In August, Scott McNealy, ceo and founder of Sun Microsystems, spoke at a televised conference dedicated to the future of technology. "The Internet is not a personal thing," he told session attendees. "To me it's work, and I'd rather be playing golf."
Yet as Americans, we lead the wired world. Nielsen/NetRatings reports that 58 percent of Americans had Internet access in their homes as of July 2001, an increase of nearly 20 percent in two years. And what can we access? More than 27 million Web sites according to some estimates, and counting.
But do we surf anymore? Do we delight in letting our minds and our Web browsers wander? Former Yankees' catcher Yogi Berra could have been talking about the Internet when he said, "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded." Of the nearly 28 million choices, you and I continue to tread our well-worn paths.
Surfing may have gone the way of the dodo, but the Internet is here to stay. In his same speech, McNealy predicted that the future of broadband, once it becomes fully realized, would not be entertainment but distance learning. "Why hasn't there been a push over the past few decades for talented individuals to write third-grade math textbooks?" McNealy asked his audience. Because there is no money in it. The power of government exists in its ability to subsidize education curriculum, he said, not hard-wiring every classroom. "Broadband will happen," said McNealy, once talented entrepreneurs develop wonderful online curriculum that schools can't afford to miss—creating a bit of demand before the supply. Only then will it become obvious to independent school boards (and corporations as well) that making high-speed connections to the Internet is money well spent.
Maybe the Web is just a tool. Perhaps the days of recreational Web use are over, but the Internet still holds an amazing promise to connect, educate and entertain when we do decide to plug in.
Who uses the Internet? I still do, but not the way I first thought I would. For now, perhaps the 12-year-old quoted in the New York Times is a voice for many: "We know how to use the Web. We can use the web. We usually just don't."