Do you remember the wonder of first encountering the internet?

In the early 90s the ‘Information Superhighway’ as the internet was known at the time, was the subject of more keynote speeches than blockchain is today.  Back then I was working in an academic environment and had access to the Joint Academic Network (JANET) – meaning I had fast internet browsing when everyone else either had nothing or, at very best, unreliable dial up.

The early days

We were traversing the newly born internet using Mosaic, then Netscape.  Eudora was the chosen programme for emails. Any internet search either gave you either something resembling what you were looking for or (more likely) something completely random.  Either way it was a trip into an adventure like nothing I had experienced before.

Unprecedented change

It is hard to measure how much things changed.  I can still remember doing research in libraries; writing to companies to ask them for copies of their Annual Report to find out more about them; faxing press releases to journalists; sending photographs via the post.  All of these were day-to-day activities at the start of my career.

Little will ever come close to the wonder I felt when I first realised that I could access information from anywhere.  Suddenly previously impossible things became achievable.  I could chat to people that liked the same sports teams as me!  I could email people and get a response on the same day.  I could find information about almost any subject, just as long as someone was kind enough to create the page.  I often wonder whether the generation before me felt like this the first time they saw a television.

18 years old

For the sake of argument, I have decided to randomly assign 2000 as the year that the internet became mainstream.  This means that it is now coming of age.  Much like the average 18-year-old, the internet is both old and young at the same time.  You know it has grown up but still has a long way to go.

The volume and velocity of change has been unprecedented. But perhaps the biggest shift is still to come. In the next 10-15 years there will be fewer and fewer people in the working population that can recall a time before the internet.

A new definition of digital native

The people I now work with never experienced life BI (Before Internet).  The people they employ in five years’ time will never have known a world before smartphones.  What the level of digital experience will children born today have by the time they leave school or University in the 2030s?

One of the toughest things for older business people to do is to listen to and take advice from younger people.  It is understandable: experience usually wins.  But in a world where every future generation will graduate with more digital knowledge and skills than the last, it has probably never been more important to listen to younger employees.  Profiting from the future means understanding it – and no-one is better equipped to educate us than those that understand it best.