Let me take you back seventeen years – Ace of Base was on the radio, Mrs. Doubtfire was dominating the box office, and The Today Show’s Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel had no freakin’ clue what the internet was. In the following video segment from January 24th 1994, the morning anchors stumble over the identity and jargon of the technology that has come to define the past decade. Gumbel is unclear how you pronounce “@”, Katie Couric suggests “about”, and no one wants to say “dot” when they read “.com”. Confusion with lingo aside, The Today Show cast has to ask a crew member to clarify how the internet works. Do you write to it like mail? Is it just in Universities? Does it require a phone line? …This was less than two decades ago, and it’s a wonderful reminder of how unprepared the mainstream media was for the innovation that was about to sweep the globe. As the crew member says of the internet, “…it’s getting bigger and bigger all the time.” What a delightful understatement.
To be fair, it wasn’t just Couric and Gumbel who were clueless, most of the population was too. Even those who were in the know couldn’t quite grasp how much things would change. Yahoo was just being founded around the time of this Today Show video clip, but none of today’s biggest online players (Google, Facebook, etc) were even conceived of in 1994. We were in such a pioneer time for the internet.
That was only seventeen years ago.
That’s more than half my age, but I still think of it as “not so long ago.” Just ten years after this segment aired, Google would make its IPO and create some of the internet’s richest billionaires. It’s amazing that it takes such a short amount of time (less than 20 years), for a single technology to go from being obscure and outside the general mainstream media to becoming central to modern society and the home for a growing segment of the media. It really makes me wonder what technologies are out there today, on the fringes of public awareness, that are going to explode in the next decade and radically alter global civilization. Like the internet, such technologies may have been under development for decades before they finally ‘takeoff’ and change the world. It’s really only our narrow focus on today’s developments that makes such disruptive events seem to appear out of nowhere. If we had been paying close enough attention maybe we could have seen the internet coming. Some did.
But you know, the veil that surrounds emerging technology cuts both ways. We didn’t really understand the science of 2011 back in 1994, but those born in the last decade wouldn’t understand the technology of 1994 either. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite videos about the rapid march of technology. To a child of 2011, the tech of yesteryear is just as incomprehensible as the internet was to The Today Show cast of 1994.
[screen capture credit: The Today Show via DrHexagon011 on YouTube]