Sunday, August 26, 2012

I haven't posted in some time. It's been a busy year. Recently I prepared a table of key dates on technology for an article I was working on this summer and I think it tells a lot about where our technology is going and where it has been. 
One of the key academic urban legends about technology is the "how long it took..." story. Many scholars (myself included) have quoted the oft' cited (but specious) statistic that “It took 37 years for radio to reach 50 million listeners, 34 years for the telephone to have 50 million customers, 13 years for television to reach 50 million viewers and 4 years for the Internet to reach 50 million subscribers” (Hannemyr, 2003, p. 111). Unfortunately, the fifty million as a percentage of the population (i.e., diffusion) is not comparable. The U.S. population in 1878 (when the telephone was introduced), was just 38.5 million (a seventh of what it is today). Mass production had not been invented yet by Henry Ford. No large infrastructure existed to publicize or produce the technology. And no one really needed it (much like the Internet when it was introduced). Thus, as Hannemyr points out, “the early adoption rates for all three media are roughly of the same order of magnitude. . . . This becomes even more obvious if instead of plotting the absolute number of users, we plot usage as a percentage of the total population” (p. 116). 
Hannemyr, G. (2003). The Internet as hyperbole: A critical examination of adoption rates. The Information Society, 19, 111–121.
This is the sort of technological mythology that we are up against as professional communicators. People do not read articles or books anymore, and criticism of the internet has become pretty uncommon. When we look at these dates, we have to wonder why every time a new technology comes out we think it is a new invention. Facebook, except for pictures, works just like a listserv, Skype is just VOIP internet telephony, I had this in graduate school in '95, Twitter is hardly worth commenting on. It's just a list service at its core. 

We ignore the the truly transformative technologies like Google Scholar, which transformed information retrieval for academics, and technologies like Craig's list (also just a list service) that largely was responsible for the death of the newspaper classified ad. 

The creativity that we see flowing on the internet in the first ten years or so of life is phenomenal. Until Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter came along, then  everything seems to stop. Almost every use of the internet before html in 1993 (and wide public access of course, people always ruin everything -- hell is other people) is non-corproate (until AOL moves in right before the Web browser was invented). After the web becomes readily available to everyone, almost the only thing people can think about is making money -- actually, porn was the single largest motivating force on the internet for about 15 years.

As professional communicators we need to take the internet back. The principles of community and civility, what the internet was founded on, should drive how we interact with our fellow humans. We need to take back the internet. 

No comments:

Post a Comment