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Thoughts that the net is dead are a bad case of Post-Modernist Blues

By Micheil Brodie - posted Thursday, 15 June 2000

I am a long-time netizen and have watched the development, explosion and decline of many products on the Net: fido net, bulletin boards, news groups, chat rooms and many more. I have worked on the development of commercial websites and developed strategies to make them work. A few years ago we were being warned and cajoled about the information superhighway but apparently few of its features have come to light, rather, we now have researches and writers saying it soon won’t exist.

More and more we see articles like E-volution, not revolution (Harriet Swain, THES 12th May 2000) citing evidence that the Net is in decline. Is it possible that the revolution that was coming has fizzled out a little like the eighties and disco or is it just another case of post-modernist, baby-boomer boredom?

Swain’s article catalogues a series of moves made by universities to incorporate e-commerce study into curricula and establish e-commerce as a mainstream field of study. The article reports the views of a number of speakers at the Virtual Societies conference later this month in London. The thrust of her piece is to develop an argument that suggests that moves to create e-commerce studies in Universities are pre-emptive because e-commerce is not something that will continue to be differentiated from other forms of business study.


Swain suggests that society is moving away from the Internet and quotes Steve Woolgar a Brunel University (London) Professor who claims that teenagers are moving away from Internet use. She argues that the e-commerce revolution is a long-term phenomenon and suggests that over the long term e-commerce will be absorbed into the mainstream of academic and business life and that the effect will be minimal. She is saying that we haven’t seen any real revolution yet so quit with the hype and get on with life as it was before the Internet because the Internet is dead boring – even to the teenagers who are supposed to be in love with the Internet.

But there is plenty of evidence that Internet usage continues to increase. Organisations like Forrester Research suggest there is evidence that teenagers, far from discounting the Net, are in fact internalising it. The term internalisation refers to people using the Internet not as an adjunct to, say, purchasing activity but as a key means of it. This suggests that the Internet will become more than a plaything of the rich and famous (something to become bored with) but rather a key tool in establishing market price for products and even completing retail transactions. The internalisation of the Internet is where the next generation of devices must lead and where the real revolution is actually going to happen.

In July 1999, NUA limited had this to say:

Teenagers and children constitute one of the fastest growing Internet populations, with 77 million under 18s expected online globally by 2005. They also constitute the most important user population, with their adoption of the Net essential to ensuring its future. Everyone who plans to do business online would be well advised to get to know Generation Y.

The kind of findings reported in E-volution, not revolution are consistent with one key feature of the information revolution and that is that we are still in its early stages. Swain’s conclusions are akin to saying a couple of years after the creation of the steam engine that it hadn’t changed much; we still wore linen and cotton and clipper ships were about as fast as we were going to travel.

So far, all we have seen of the information revolution is the automation of some tasks that used to be manual. Typewriters have been re-designed and now come with a few extra features but office tasks are still fundamentally the same. Communications and information are also changing slowly.


The Nasdaq, despite recent declines, has increased in value by at least 150% on twelve months ago and big players in the telecommunications and Internet markets are still merging and converging with the entertainment industry. If the Internet is in decline there are some very successful business people making horribly bad bets — the kind of bets for which the Murdochs, Bill Gateses and Steve Jobs of this world aren’t known.

The current fall in high-tech, e-commerce stocks isn’t caused by fashion wearing a little thin on the Internet front, it has been caused by basic financial problems in high-tech company structures. being the most recent and highest profile dot-com collapse serves as a warning and markets have heard it. However, post-modernist blues do not cause falls in the stock market – fortunately.

What we need to know is that the information revolution is only just getting started and that the teenagers of today are the ones who are leading the charge. If the history of revolution holds true - that they eat their own children - Microsoft and other major players had better watch out because their future might be very bleak. Certainly post-modernist, baby-boomer boredom with the Internet can be discounted – we will see a revolution.

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About the Author

Micheil Brodie is a contributing editor to On Line Opinion.

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