Thursday, September 15, 2016

The Internet revolution in perspective

Google, Facebook, self-driving cars, iPhones, etc. are changing our lives, organizations and society, but this is not unprecedented. Similar scientific and technical disruption occurred about 100 years ago. Guglielmo Marconi invented and commercialized electronic wireless communication at that time and, in his review of a book on the life of Marconi, Paul Kennedy writes that in the first decade of the 20th century:

Breakthroughs in science and technology occurred so often that it would be brash to claim that any one of them “changed the world” (which doesn’t stop proponents from doing so). The Wright brothers’ success in aviation in 1903 led to national air forces being created only a few years later. The automobile was becoming reliable, standardized and produced in such numbers as to change urban landscapes. Giant trans-Atlantic liners altered oceanic travel. Electric power was coming to houses and oil-fueled propulsion replacing coal-fired engines. The Dreadnought battleship (1906) made all other warships obsolete.
In his biography of Albert Einstein, Walter Isaacson writes that:
In 1915 Einstein wrested from nature his crowning glory, one of the most beautiful theories in all of science, the general theory of relativity ... His fingerprints are all over today's technologies. Photoelectric cell and lasers, nuclear power, fiber optics, space travel and even semiconductors all trace back to his theories.
This is not intended to diminish the impact of the Internet on our lives, organizations and society, but to lend perspective. The Internet is disruptive, but so were the printing press, number systems, phonetic writing, agriculture, the recognition of natural cycles, spoken language, etc. What else?