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Was it “the year
of the internet”?

(or are we
“back to square one”?)

January 2001

disponibile anche in italiano
disponible también en español

  Giancarlo Livraghi
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One day in December, while reading an article published by Puntonet in Argentina, I discovered that the European Union had declared year 2000 “the year of the internet”. I felt a bit guilty for my ignorance. But hardly anyone else had noticed. That isn’t surprising. It’s been happening for the last six or seven years. Someone says that it’s going to be “the year of the internet”, then everyone forgets and a year later it starts all over. Does that make sense? I don’t think so. The internet isn’t an event for a single year. It’s been around for over twenty years and it’s here to stay. In one way or another, it will continue to grow.

When European commissioner Erkki Liikanen commented on the year, he pointed to two facts. The number of internet users in Europe is growing. We knew that, and it isn’t a new or temporary trend. E–commerce isn’t taking off. We knew that as well; the interesting fact is that European authorities are beginning to notice (though they don’t seem to have any clear ideas about what should be done).

The remarkable thing about year 2000 is that nothing new happened. The net continues to grow, but that isn’t new. Every other day someone announces a “revolutionary innovation” that has no effect (or generates a certain amount of unnecessary confusion). Often “innovations” are old ideas painted over to make them appear new. In the never-ending onslaught of pseudo innovations it’s hard to tell which (new or old) things may be useful and which will just pile up in the already huge dump of the clumsy and useless manipulations.

We need to understand that the internet isn’t a “revolution”. Revolutions are short-lived. In a few years they fail – or turn into something very different from what their initiators had in mind.

There was one exception in history. The American revolution of 1774-76. But it wasn’t a revolution: it was an independence war.

The internet is evolution. It’s almost universally agreed in theory (but hardly understood in practice) that it’s a biological system. That doesn’t mean that it’s slow. Evolution can be fast or slow depending on circumstances, seasons, weather, its own phases, the environment, etc.

Now that we are moving into something called “year one”... maybe it’s the time to re-consider. We should put an end to “short term” thinking. We should stop behaving like that peculiar insect, the mayfly (ephemera), that flies and mates and dies in a few hours. It’s true that some “ephemeral” ventures made a few people very rich. That’s not new. In every stage of turbulent change there have always been people who managed to “take the money and run”. Good for them. But in the history books, fifty years from now, there will be no trace of their adventures – except maybe in some footnotes about the peculiarities and growing pains of the net’s childhood or adolescence.

We don’t need to go back to the drawing board. The blueprint is there, from the very beginning. The real internet is alive and growing. Not in the shadow, but a bit removed from the limelight. We just need to look behind some useless props and remove a lot of crumbling superstructures that are hiding its real nature.

Happy “year one” to all. Let’s hope that it will bring us something really new and interesting. With less confusing haste, less aimless “navigation”... and a little more time to think.

On the growth of the internet worldwide and in Europe (and on usage patterns in Italy) there are analyses in the data section of this site. Unfortunately they are only in Italian; but it’s fairly easy to understand charts and graphs, regardless of language.

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