Pulp and Paper Canada

Where Is the Internet Headed?

May 1, 2003  By Pulp & Paper Canada

The printing press allowed a previously undreamt of number of people to read for recreation and education. It took 100 years or more for the new technology (i.e. learning to read) to become common bef…

The printing press allowed a previously undreamt of number of people to read for recreation and education. It took 100 years or more for the new technology (i.e. learning to read) to become common before printing became really widespread, and created one of history’s first media stars, William Shakespeare. My friends who teach English literature seem annoyed at my suggestion that Shakespeare owes his fame in a large part to the technology (paper and printing) that allowed his works to reach the masses first.

Broadcast radio became widespread in the 1920s, about 80 years after technology to transmit information without horse, human courier or ship, followed soon after by motion pictures. This technology was not limited by the end users having to learn any technical details. The radio/film combination came together in the 1950s, in the form of television, which took about 50 years from initial technical developments to use in over 50% of homes.


The Internet had its beginnings in 1970s as a military research tool, but became available to the public only in the 1990s due to the development of Internet Service Providers, PCs with adequate, reasonably-priced modems, key software and the World Wide Web. It has taken only about ten years for the Internet to reach into 60% of homes and to be accessible to 75% of students. This technology requires some user skills, so will probably never reach the penetration of TV (over 95% of homes) but is changing the way people communicate and is cutting into the time spent watching television according to the UCLA Internet Report (http://ccp.ucla.edu/ )



Advancing technology will make the Internet more convenient and more powerful, leading to increasing use. High-speed Internet access is used by between 10% and 20% of home users today, and the number of users is growing at about 50% per year. This rapid spread of high-speed Internet access in the home makes the Internet much more convenient for browsing the news that readers want to read about in depth, which is unfortunately cutting into one of the great advantages of the newspaper over TV news.

A second technology that will increase Internet use is the spread of wireless networks, with access points in an increasing number of public places. This allows Internet access from the laptop or Palm-type device without the necessity of being plugged, while in a wireless-equipped environment. Most of the recent model laptops are already equipped to use these networks, and any one can be converted by plugging in a wireless network card. These are so standardized that they usually install themselves, and the work successfully with any PC or MAC.

Intel recently introduced the Centrino, a chip set to improve the integration of wireless networking and extend battery life for laptops.

Computer cost, size and weight continue to drop. The development of tablet format PCs with the ability to plug into full-size keyboards when desired will remove the physical inconvenience of reading on screen instead of paper. All of these developments will lead to more people carrying the devices, and using them in the office, on the road, comfortably seated in front of the living room fire, or in bed.

The combination of speed of loading web pages, and increasingly convenient access, will keep Internet use growing for the next few years. Airlines, banks and governments (at least here in Quebec) are encouraging users to serve themselves on the Internet in order to cut back on the number of staff needed for telephone support or office/home visits.

Current limitations on Internet use include poor central software and the Balkanization of the public access points for wireless networks. Business competition will take care of the software quality. However, I am afraid the wireless access providers may take years to realize that users are not interested in keeping seven separate Internet access accounts open, or paying for them, to have access while traveling. FAX machines, cellular telephones and e-mail systems all suffered from the same disease in their early days, and it took ten years or more for the providers to realize the need for inter-operability for use of their service to become ubiquitous.

Internet use will continue to grow rapidly, both in terms of numbers of users and hours per week on-line, therefore reducing the time spent with paper and TV communications.

As access to high-speed Internet connections reach the majority of homes in a few years, it will become the practical method for distributing the movies that most people currently drive to the store to rent. By avoiding the physical costs of the store, film distributors will be able to sell movies in the form of files that have a short life (say a couple of days) for a dollar or so. Of course pirates will find ways around the security, but at a dollar or two per movie, most of the public will pay. (Who photocopies a paperback novel, to avoid buying it for $8?)

Purchasing on the Internet seems to be stable, rather than expanding, but I feel it will grow significantly as the vendor software improves, and people get over their fear of using credit cards on-line. The same people trust their card number to barmen and gas station attendants. Provided you deal with reputable entities, such as major stores, governments, telephone companies, etc, you are safer on the Internet than a strange bar, retail store or gas station.

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