The Internet Is Losing Its Baby Teeth

Back in 2010, Chris Anderson, editor of Wired magazine, wrote an article called: “The Web Is Dead.” He argued that the future of the Internet and connectivity wasn’t in the World Wide Web, but in a fragmented collection of many different platforms — people consuming content via mobile devices, native apps and other means outside of a traditional web browser. While Anderson’s sensational claim raised a lot of eyebrows and sparked enormous debate, I wasn’t sure what to make of his prediction at the time. Four years later, we have a little more perspective.

In 2014, ‘the web’ — the means by which we access the Internet using a web browser — is hardly dead, although there certainly has been a significant shift in our relationship with the Internet. In its infant stages, going online meant using AOL or Earthlink to dial up a connection to the web. Today, we use the Internet for different reasons, and our connectivity is better, faster and stronger than ever.

The disruptive technology that is the Internet is no longer a baby; it’s more like a toddler learning to walk. As parents know, when your baby learns to walk, you breathe a sigh of relief at their newfound mobility. But that relief quickly turns to frustration as you realize you’ve only traded one set of problems for another. Your newly mobile child can now get into everything, climb furniture, and break things. The same is true with the Internet.

One of the most astonishing ways it’s changed our lives, for example, is by changing the way we consume music and videos. It’s severed our ties to old, “hard media” like videotapes, CDs, and DVDs — an amazing liberation — but has also introduced a whole new, frustrating labyrinth of alternatives at the same time.

The irony is that with all these choices, we can’t actually choose just one.

Anderson’s prediction of fragmentation is most obvious when you look on top of (or under) your TV. Odds are, where we used to store our DVD cases and video sleeves, most of us now have an assortment of streaming devices. Instead of having one giant VCR, we can now choose from having a cable box, TiVO, DVR, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Amazon Fire TV and much more. But the irony is that with all these choices, we can’t choose just one.

You can’t stream iTunes media through your Chromecast, and you can’t watch Amazon Prime on your Apple TV. Roku is great but doesn’t work with Apple AirPlay. You can watch Netflix on your Apple TV, but, of course, Netflix doesn’t have half the movies you wish it did available for streaming. If you want voice control on your device, only Amazon Fire TV has it. Are you the old fashioned type who still likes using a remote control? Don’t get a Chromecast. Oh and by the way, if you don’t want a wallet-sized device cluttering up your living room, you can just switch to Amazon’s new Fire TV Stick, which is about the size of a thumb drive. But that’s only if you don’t already have the Roku Streaming Stick, or if you aren’t waiting for Wal-Mart’s just-announced VUDU Spark Stick. (I can’t wait to see what Microsoft and Blackberry have up their sleeves to try to jump into this game — their product names are bound to be interesting.)

I’m old enough to remember watching VHS tapes, but not enough to remember the video “format wars” of the ‘80s. My dad told me a story of the VHS tape fighting against the smaller, arguably better, Betamax format. As the story goes, VHS ended up with a better selection of videos – today we’d say they had more “content providers” — and ergo, won the format war despite downfalls in size and picture quality.

What this costly war proved was that hardware format doesn’t matter anymore.

There was a similar war in the early 2000s: HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray. But what this costly war proved was that hardware format doesn’t matter anymore.

While people were busy upgrading their home video collections from VHS to HD-DVD or Blu-Ray, Internet streaming was born and quickly eclipsed both. Streaming digital media became the new way to watch movies, and most of us stopped purchasing movies altogether, opting for a monthly subscription model of on-demand consumption with services like Netflix. The lure of the Internet delivering whatever we wanted, whenever and wherever we wanted and on any device wanted, trumped everything else.

Is this all for the better? I still don’t know. I see the benefit in no longer needing to spend my hard-earned cash on hardware that’ll become obsolete in five or 10 years, and not being confined to a desktop computer when I want to access web content. (I’m grateful to be free from lugging my massive CD sleeve around in my car too. However, there’s always the risk that I’ll want to listen to a certain album, or watch a certain movie, only to find out that it’s “not available.”)

I think we’ve reached an awkward phase for the Internet. It’s beyond the baby stages and learned to walk. It’s still gaining confidence and smiles a big, toothy grin with several teeth missing. The web isn’t dead; we’re all just impatiently watching it to grow up.

Originally published in the Colorado Springs Independent.

Originally published at the Colorado Springs Independent.