I wrote yesterday a bit about the evolution of the devices that we use, but today I want to talk about a much more substantive change that is happening. There is a generational shift in the way people use the Internet and people under 30 years of age are using the Internet in a fundamentally different way than older people. This is starting to manifest itself in the services that are available over the Internet and we are reaching a point where it is going to affect what is available to everybody.
I’ve written before about how differently young people today use video. They rarely watch video in a linear fashion from the beginning to the end of a show. They would rather look at a highlight of a movie on YouTube than actually watch the movie. They generally are multitasking when watching anything and they don’t give video their undivided attention. One of the most popular ways for them to watch video is in the 7-second film clips on Vine.
The same fundamental differences are also there in the way that younger people use the Internet. People of this younger generation have now been raised on smartphones. And from that experience they predominantly prefer smartphone over PCs and tablets. You can see it in everything they do. They hate email and rarely use it. They instead text or chat with others directly. They don’t like sites like Facebook because the communications are too linear for them and instead use sites like Reddit, Imjur, 4Chan and 9gag, which are more akin to the way they communicate.
One of the biggest differences is that young people don’t use browsers and don’t even much like PCs or tablets. When people over 30, like me, think about the Internet we are really thinking about the browser experience. That means using programs like Internet Explorer, Google Chrome or Firefox. That is how we navigate the web, find information and communicate. We all learned the Internet with the AOL or similar browser and we still use the Internet in pretty much that same way. We generally drive our web experience based upon a browser and an email reader. We use Google to search for websites we are interested in. The way we use the web is very linear and based upon reading web sites, playing games, reading emails.
But younger people prefer the smartphone over the PC or tablet. To them computers are what they are forced to use for schoolwork, but the smartphone is where they do everything else. They assemble a pile of individual apps, each one to do a specific task. They are quick to swap any one of these apps when something better comes along. This is backed up by surveys. Pew Research Group has shown that 74% of teenagers use the Internet from their cellphone and 55% of them only use the cellphones to be on-line.
This trend is having a big influence on what is being developed for the web. It’s projected this year that web hits from cellphones will surpass hits from PCs and tablets, and so the Internet is flipping from PC-based to smartphone-based. We’ve already seen this in the marketplace where there are now major applications like WhatsApp that don’t even have a desktop equivalent. We also see PC staples like Facebook now being released as a series of apps rather than as a unified platform.
As more and more development is done for apps rather than for PCs, users of PCs are going to start falling out of the mainstream. And I get this, to some degree. I get my news from Flipboard, an application on my smartphone because it beats anything I have found on the PC. And most older users have a few apps they like, but as a group they mostly still use browsers. But as more and more new things are developed only for smartphone, older users will be lured more and more towards apps. In not too many years new development of the browser is going to die, and a few years after that the browsers will probably die.
I am not much enticed by the things that kids like today and I would rather be shot than spend an afternoon watching Vine. But when it comes down to being productive and actually getting work done, I turn to my PC or laptop. I am a PC man through and through, and if it comes down to it, you’ll have to pry my PC from my cold dead hands!
Your blog post today reminded me of an old axiom that my dad said to me and probably his dad said to him, “If you don’t know it… Look it up, that way you will not forget it”. In a sense for years we were just like our parents and their parents before them, we went to the dictionary, the encyclopedias, or the local library to satisfy this need.
The computer and the Internet revolutionized how we accessed these resources. The efficiency of this ability allowed access to knowledge to be relatively ubiquitous throughout the world. This single achievement of mankind will likely be categorized as man’s greatest and most loathsome achievement. I say this because along with the good came certain aspects of the bad, but clearly when history reflects upon the birth of the Internet and the Age of the Net, it will be spoken in terms along with the Bronze Age, and the Industrial Revolution, the invention of the wheel, and the discovery of fire.
Today we are literally in the infancy of this “Net Age”. We have adopted this technology and worked our past processes into the dynamics of the Internet realm. We read our mail in much the same way as we did for the last hundred years, we open a mail message, much like we opened and envelope in the past and read from a piece of paper, except in these days we click a mouse on the message in a email program, and read from a screen, where there is typically black letters on a white background. As a prime example of how computers had a profound effect on my understanding how we communicate, I learned in school two methods in which I can write a message: block letters or cursive letters. Today the only time I write in cursive is when I sign my name. Where in the past we looked up the spelling of words to not look dumb in the eyes of the reader, today we turn to the online dictionary or spellcheckers, dictionaries, and thesauruses built into word processing programs to make us look and sound smarter than what we truly are. We all now have access to online dynamic encyclopedias e.g., Wikipedia edited by and large the public, the leading authority in these dynamically changing times. Wiki’s have become so ubiquitous in the way that we check and verify subject matter that they now exist specifically within entities and organizations as a tool, allowing cross-training and skill sharing across organizational boundaries.
Like the start of any race, coming out of the blocks quickly without stumbling or tripping is always a challenge, but once your legs are underneath you and your stride builds from the strength of training and learning you are able to clear the first hurdle with sheer ability, then before you even land from that first hurdle, your sights are set on the next hurdle, with your mind calculating the timing and distance of your strides. As you stick the landing in-stride with the momentum of clearing that first hurdle you never look back in your quest to clear the hurdles and win the race. Much like the racing track star that is depicted above, mankind has in a sense come out of the blocks, sprinted through the first portion of the race and has cleared the first hurdle. The hurdles are the achievements of outcomes that provide mankind with greater opportunities. The Internet as a metaphor is the track we are running on, it is the blank slate waiting to be written, the problem waiting to be solved. The Internet isn’t an answer, it is an opportunity, and the millennials have grasped this concept and have begun to shape it into their next hurdle.
The things that they will use to gather the strength to overcome the next hurdle are now showing up on the race down the track, applications like Vine, WhatsApp, Reddit and Imjur, are a programs with which they will gather and disseminate information. We will use the four W’s & an H (What, When, Where, Why, and How) collectively as a tool called “Big Data” to understand and reach the next hurdle, that next big achievement.
The next big thing is out there waiting for the right mechanism to become something better for everyone. It will come about, and it will be a life changing achievement, much like the Industrial Age created the road to tool making machines that led to the Technological Age and that created the tool called the Internet and led to the Internet Age, the Internet is now the road that will lead us to the next “AGE” perhaps quicker than we would ever expect.
I think I might have alluded to the next big thing yesterday when I talked about hearables. I think the combination of finding a way that you are always connected to the Internet along with a smarter assistant to make sense of it will be transformational.
Today you can do a Google search and find a ton of different and get a wide variety of responses – a few that are what you are looking for, some that are completely incorrect, and most that are irrelevant to what you were looking for. When we get the next generation or two of a Siri that can interpret the web for you and decide which of these responses are what you want, then we no longer have the internet with us, we have facts with us.
And when that assistant is in your ear or is some other way always with you, then the world is transformed. Everybody has access to the facts. I don’t think we are too far from this day and this day changes everything. You are right that have recently taken the first step, and I think this is the second step, the one that changes thing. But I have no idea what comes after that.