The Internet will disappear

The Internet has been with us in its truest form for only 20 years, yet it has changed everything for everyone!  And now, the boss of Google, Erci Schmidt says it is going to “disappear” it has been so pervasive.  And it got me thinking about just how much change our over 60s have seen at the hands of the Internet and what you think of it.

“The internet will soon be so pervasive in every facet of our lives that it will effectively “disappear” into the background,” Schmidt said to world leaders at Davos in Switzerland on Saturday.  “There will be so many sensors, so many devices, that you won’t even sense it, it will be all around you.”

“It will be part of your presence all the time. Imagine you walk into a room and… you are interacting with all the things going on in that room.”

“A highly personalised, highly interactive and very interesting world emerges.”

He was invited to speak at the World Economic Leaders Forum on a panel of the world’s biggest technology leaders, with the goal of allaying fears that the technological advancement of the Internet and the change it is creating is killing jobs.
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“Everyone’s worried about jobs,” said the COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg.

It is a terrifying thought, when we stop to consider it, that because of the extreme change of the last 20 years, some say will be remembered as the technological revolution of the world, we are now more productive as a race.  But we have to stop and wonder whether it is at the cost of our own growth and community wealth? Would people have been better off without technology making us more connected, more efficient and more intelligent as a race?

Companies like Google are believed to be contributing to the global economy at a value of more than $200 billion according to Deloitte, and Schmidt says that every tech job creates seven more in the other areas of the economy.

Most people here in Starts at 60 will be able to reflect on the change to the operations of businesses with more experience and insight than I can, and attest to whether the introduction of technology enabled the businesses to grow or whether it just did people out of jobs making them more profitable.  And each person will indeed have their own opinion on which is more important.  Profitable businesses usually invest more in capital and staffing as they succeed – did the companies you were working in as technology ripped through the world employ more people with different skills or did they just decrease their staffing?

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When the Internet arrived in businesses I worked in, the first small capabilities were largely rejected as risky forms of communications, unreliable and easy to lose.  It took years for it to gain credence, but once it did, my first job as a trainee stockbroker became virtually redundant.  eTrading took over the stockmarket within three years of its introduction and many of the stockbroking companies of the eighties and nineties disappeared.  Other jobs replaced them in head offices of electronic trading companies in large capital cities, but the personal touch of a local broker was no longer required or desired because of the competitive pricing and instant information offered by Internet applications.

There has been significant debate at Davos about whether the Internet has in fact enabled the world to better share the spoils of the technology economy or whether it has drawn the spoils for the few who lead the industry’s growth.  Leaders like Sandberg insisted that the Internet has enabled more people to share the wealth and opportunity through greater connectedness.  Others in the community might argue that only those with deep pockets can make big money out of the Internet.

“Now everyone has a voice… now everyone can post, everyone can share and that gives a voice to people who have historically not had it,” Sandberg said.

But as the sharing economy has unfolded, people who previously couldn’t make a living working in the media now can through their own entrepreneurship.  We are seeing Youtubers making millions a year, and bloggers building up a comfortable income over time.

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But is it fairly enough spread?  If we look back, this is not the first time that rapid change changed the way people worked and used resources.  When tractors and motor vehicles were introduced, people who worked on farms manually were replaced by machinery.  Those people were forced to retrain into drivers and enablers of a different kind.  Is it reasonable to believe that the morphing of the world due to the Internet is still underway as people who previously were needed in roles that are now done by computers and live communications capability now have to reposition themselves in the new economy.

Eric Schmidt says, “I’m optimistic, there’s no question. If you are in the tech business, you have to be optimistic. Ultimately to me, it’s about human capital. Tech empowers humans to do great things.”

It leaves a lot of questions I want to throw at you today.  How did the Internet affect your career?  Have you ever lost a job, or seen an industry you work in change significantly?  Did it create opportunity for you in your life and empower you to do great things?  Share your stories.