The importance of thinking big

“All the good ideas are already taken” – Anon.

When I was very young I didn’t want to a fireman or an astronaut or any of things most little boys want to be. I originally wanted to be a Travel Agent. Why? I thought Travel Agents spent a lot of time travelling the world – and that sounded like an adventure!  At some point I obviously figured out that was the last thing most Travel Agents spent doing. I then decided that I wanted to be an Architect. I’m not sure why I was drawn to Architecture – something about the intersection between Design and Engineering must have appealed to something deep inside of me. Anyway, that soon petered out when I figured out I wasn’t very good at it.

I was blessed to be exposed to computers from a young age. I even learned some BASIC in elementary school which was incredibly rare in the 80’s. Then came a Commodore 64 and various Nintendo consoles. I wasn’t a stereotypical nerd but I did enjoy computers and electronics in general. Then somewhere around 1997 I got my first taste of the World Wide Web as it was commonly referred to back then. And boy was I hooked! I knew instantly that this thing of wonder was what I wanted to devote my life to. I had no frickin idea what exactly that meant. But that same cocktail of Design and Engineering coming together really drew me in. The fact that you could create your own little bit of Cyberspace that was yours was some from simple html and images in Notepad and throw it up on Geocities was like we had suddenly been transported to the future. It was the future.

I was ahead of my peers in terms of using the web as a research tool. So much so that my grades soared as I took advantage of the new found wealth of information that was ay my fingertips to research my degree subjects to a level far beyond what was in the textbooks and notes my peers spent their time reading. While I wouldn’t consider myself hugely academically gifted I managed to top my class in 2 degrees in 2 years – and I put that squarely down to my ability to leverage the power of the web better than the majority of my peers at the time.  My guess is that things have changed considerably since then and now everyone is a mouse click away from an original opinion on a subject and that the playing field has been levelled somewhat since back then.

For those of us who got hooked on the web in the late ’90’s the potential of the web was almost too exciting. We would spend hours talking about how the web was going to change everything. Soon enough the zealots managed to convince the rest of the world that everything was going to change and we got our Dotcom boom which made paper gazillionaires out of guys the same age as me who were way smarter and more confident than I was. The crash then came and brought us back down to earth before Web 2.0 rose like a phoenix from the ashes and fed the latest bubble (which the air finally looks to be coming out of).

If one was to look back at the days of the original Dotcom boom I think we’d see that in many cases we’ve far exceeded some of the crazy projections for how important the web and the Internet in general would become as a driver of economic activity.

But as I write this in May 2016 I can’t help but feel that a lot of us have become a bit jaded about the whole thing.  

That early excitement and sense of boundless opportunity seems to be gone. We seemed to have lost our way somewhere along the line. I wonder why? Has the web and Internet tech in general simply matured to a point that the web is simply just another part of our life now like any other utility or communications medium? Have we arrived at the promised land and now we’ve no fucking clue where to go from here? Somehow I don’t think that’s it.

The increasing dominance of big social networks like Face-Insta-App, Twitter, Snapchat and consolidate control of the main entry points to the internet by Google and Apple has sucked a lot of the innovation and excitement out of the web. Amazon to a large extent controls a huge amount of eCommerce online. The Man has moved in and gentrified the web. It’s all got really fucking boring.

We’re also bombarded from every corner of the web by shitty content websites churning out clickbait in the hope of earning a few cents. Users are voting with their Ad blockers in ever increasing numbers.

Change is coming

Having been through 2 major tech boom/bust cycles I’ve seen enough to believe we’re on the cusp of another major disruption in tech. Not that Silicon Valley “we’re going to disrupt the smartphone cover market” bullshit. I mean proper disruption where everything goes to shit – before it’s then gets better – much better. And that’s a good thing. The current web is pretty much ready to collapse under it’s own weight in crap content trying to trick us to click on content which are basically ads dressed as content. These are just better dressed monkey punchers.  It’s got to stop! And it will. More and more users will force the hand of advertisers and publishers – they’ll either adapt or die. I think many will die as they did before as they have no idea how to adapt. That’s where things get interesting – and potentially exciting again.

While this post has certainly had a cynical tone to it – let’s end on a very positive note. It’s 2016. The web is a little over 20 years old. In human terms, it’s only recently been allowed to legally buy alcohol. In historical terms, it’s barely left the petri dish. We are very much still in the formative stages of the web and the Internet in general. We’ll look back in another 20 years and realize how fucking quaint the web that we have today is by future standards. Virtual Reality, Quantum Computing, Artificial Intelligence, wearable devices and the Internet of Things are evolving at a frightening pace and will likely dominate the web within the next 5 to 10 years – and potentially much quicker than that.

What does that mean for those of us who make a living online?

It means we can’t sit still. We’ve got to try and join the dots and see what’s coming. What works today won’t work in 3-6 months time. It’s time to start thinking bigger and see where the ball is going. Fortunes will be made and lost in the next 10 years in jobs that don’t even exist yet. That Travel Agent job has been brought to the brink of extinction and back as they learned to survive as curators of travel experiences rather than booking intermediaries. It’s quite likely the blog as you and I know it will be utterly transformed as we start to take advantage of emerging tech.

Will the next Pat Flynn appear in person in front of us via the successor to Google Glasses (they’ll be back people!)? Only time will tell. But one thing is for sure – things are about to get a shakeup – and that creates opportunities for us all – we just need to keep our eyes open to spot them.

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