The recent 15th birthday celebration of eBay has got me all misty-eyed as I ponder my own 15-year on-line odyssey, the next 15 years and how to reconcile Internet time with the growing awareness of the inevitable limitation of my own human lifespan.
How old were you when eBay started? I was in my early 30s. 1995 was the year I first went on-line. I had a few Internet friends who were in their early 20s who thought I was the ‘old guy’. Now they are mid 30s, heading on that slippery slope to the big five-0. Scary, huh? 15 more years and I’ll be a pensioner! I have nephews who are finishing high school this year, who were just out of nappies when Craigslist, MSN, Yahoo and Match.com were being born.
15 years in human terms is pretty significant; a full demographic shift, a career or two and long enough for your hair to turn grey or disappear. Yet light from our sun has only traveled as far as the closest 50 star systems in that time – out of a total of 100–400 billion in the Milky Way alone. 15 years is at once an entire generation and the blink of an eye. Long enough for Google to go from an idea for a PhD project to arguably one of the most influential organisations on the planet, with 22,000 staff and astronomical cash-flow. Short enough for me to still have to-do lists from 1995 with things still not ticked off!
For a quick flashback to 1995, try this video: http://waxy.blip.tv/file/752713/
‘Internet Power!’ There were 35–40 million people on-line in ’95 – there are now almost 2 billion. Average PC RAM storage has increased a thousand-fold. Interestingly, even though so much seems to have changed, that old video shows that the essential elements of today’s Web were all there back in 1995. It was slow and clunky, but you could watch video, download music, images, chat, email, upload and download. Most of the groundwork had been done. It just took 15 more years of coding and cabling to bring it all to life.
If we take the long view, 15 more years might go just as quickly as the last for you and me, yet the next Google might still be someone’s PhD project. Yours, perhaps?
While it seems all the great Internet ideas might have already been done, consider Chat Roulette, FourSquare, local start-up, Envato, or the many other start-ups featured in this very publication, who are expanding exponentially with no sign of slowing down. In fact the more I think about it, and how frustrating many aspects of my on-line life still are these days, the more massive opportunities seem to remain untapped or not even dreamed of. The next 15 years could make the last 15 look like the dark ages.
To those born in 1995, the Internet-enabled world is the only world they know. While we email and Google-search for Web pages, they are hard-wired to 3D surround-sound gaming environments already and will no doubt prefer to do business that way, once their parents stop feeding them.
Will we pay bills by stabbing them to death? Invoice clients by lobbing a hand-grenade at them? Purchase products by shooting them? Hire new staff by challenging them to a Kung Fu fight? It could get very weird... Or it could go in a completely new direction and catch us all by surprise the way it has done consistently for the last 15 years.
Whatever happens, I want in. I’ve got at least 15 good years left in me. Come on kids, 2025 is just around the corner – let’s get busy!