Living on Internet Time

by Rob Spiegel

The Internet is part of our daily lives.

The faster things move, the more they slow down. Internet time was once described as bewildering, even incomprehensible. Remember drinking from the fire hose? Internet changes came so fast they were impossible to assimilate. Lately, I think we've hit a time warp. In the past few months, it has gradually become easier to keep up with Internet developments.

This is partly because the dot com crash slowed the introduction of bizarre new "solutions." Partly it's because we're getting attuned to the Net and it's no longer strange, surprising or even all that innovative. Maybe the shift is due to the fact that when everyone is moving at the same speed, all sense of velocity ends.

Speed is always relative. When a friend of mine returned from Vietnam 30 years ago, he drove down his hometown streets at 20 miles per hour. Cars zoomed by all around us honking, since the speed limit was 45. "Why the heck are you going so slow?!" I stammered as vehicles kept charging up behind us.

"I don't think I can go over 20," he barked, white with fear. After 18 months in a country with roads that didn't allow speeds beyond 20, the velocity of our suburban streets disoriented him. He had grown accustomed to the danger of Saigon's deadly booby traps, but he was out of his element when it came to street speed.



The Internet has fully entered our lives, and it has affected how we perceive its development velocity. When was the last time you had to explain Napster to someone? Can you remember the last time you received a hand-written letter from a friend? When was the last time you were handed a business card that didn't include an email address?

Recently I heard the startlingly correct comment that the real killer application on the Internet is email. However you look at it, Internet connectivity and usage has become a central part of our business and personal lives in just a few short years.

My one offline friend (he's an acoustic musician for gosh sakes), knows the differences between 56k and DSL. Though he doesn't own a computer, he uses my email address as his contact point for his self-produced CD, which is available, of course, on Amazon.com. Last week I took a booking for him by email. The gig was two miles from his home, 1500 miles from mine.

Even the fantastic changes brought on by B2B ecommerce have become routine. Recently I spoke with Eric Singleton, the e-business guru at mega-company Raytheon. He commented that sometime last fall he stopped having to explain to each division why it was in their interest to move their communications and trading to the Net. Now division heads come to his office asking how soon they can launch a portal or private trading exchange.

One of the early values of the dot com boom was being first to market. It was a highly over-rated value. The highway is now littered with the road kill of first-to-market enterprises that were well-funded but not well-considered. It seems that those who are second-to-market with a solid business plan may have the new-new Net strategy. And perhaps all of the business school drop outs who rushed to launch dot coms would be wise to re-enroll for those classes that cover creating value for the customer.

The new economy certainly is real. The communication, connectivity and community provided by the Internet will transform the business world in ways we cannot even imagine. But the new economy is getting completely absorbed by the economy as a whole. That's part of the reason the sense of acceleration has vanished. We're all moving at the same speed.

Remember the image of dot coms scurrying like tiny mammals at the feet of the old-world dinosaurs. Well, the old-world dinosaurs evolved very quickly into large mammals and they've eaten up the tiny dot coms. Hmmm, a nourishing food.

Rob Spiegel is the author of Net Strategy (Dearborn) and The Shoestring Entrepreneur’s Guide to Internet Start-ups (St. Martin's Press). You can reach Rob at robspiegel@comcast.net

 
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