Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt, rather caused a few heads to explode at the World Economic Forum at Davos when he said that the internet will disappear. No, don’t worry, he’s not arguing that our vital supply of cat pictures is about to disappear. Rather, he’s making a useful point about the economics of technologies as they mature. They become so built into our societies and lives that we stop really noticing that they are there. For example, sure, we all use artificial light but it’s really only a century ago that it became something that was common (if that in fact). And it’s much more recent than that that it actually became affordable to the point that we simply don’t worry about using it. The light bulb was a noticeable technology until really quite recently. Now we really only note its absence.
Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt on Thursday predicted the end of the Internet as we know it.
At the end of a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where his comments were webcast, he was asked for his prediction on the future of the web. “I will answer very simply that the Internet will disappear,” Schmidt said.
And here’s what he really meant by this:
As wearables gain traction and our homes become smarter and more connected, Schmidt sees a future where the Internet is all around us.
“It will be part of your presence all the time,” Schmidt said, according to CNET. “Imagine you walk into a room, and the room is dynamic. And with your permission and all of that, you are interacting with the things going on in the room.”
The point being that this happens to all and every technology as it matures. It’s really a part of the economics about how we know that a technology has actually matured in fact. When it simply fades into the background and becomes something that we all have, that most of us don’t really know very much about (or care) only that it can do whatever it is for us.
My usual example of this is the car. Early cars were a great deal more unreliable than the horses and carriages they replaced. So much so that a driver was not in fact, for the first few decades, really someone who directed the vehicle but a manner of carrying around your own mechanic with you to deal with the inevitable breakdowns. There were then decades (well into my lifetime for example) when Sunday afternoons had to be spent doing this or that to a car in order to make sure that it was still good for the week’s work. These days most of us can still just about change a flat tire but who really knows how to do much more than that? Cars simply “work” these days. It might have taken the best part of a century to get here but it did. We just don’t have to be mechanics in order to get them to work.
Desktop computing is obviously moving in the same direction. I started using them just as the original IBM PC was coming out and you really did need to have considerable technical knowledge to get them to do anything useful. These days just about anyone can open a box with a new one inside, hook it up and be watching cat videos within 10 minutes. And really all Schmidt is saying is that the internet is rapidly approaching that mature state. We don’t have to know anything about the technology that enables us to do things we just can do those things as the technology enables us.
The internet isn’t going to disappear: it’s just going to mature.