as fears of computer inadequacy faded, so will fears of being left
behind on the Internet
by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published
in Business in Vancouver
, Issue #683 September 28, 1995 High Tech Office column
It used to
be that people
were intimidated by the phrase "computer literacy." Computer literacy
was something we all had to have, even though no one could really
what it was.
increasingly invaded our daily working lives, it's become something
we no longer hear much about. For most users, computers are tools--
like telephones, fax, photocopiers, even toasters. When did you ever
hear a demand for "photocopier literacy"?
now get lots
of anxious questions about the Internet, which has become the subject
of a near-constant news barrage: couples who met on the Internet, New
Year's celebrations on the Internet, art exhibits on the Internet,
business conducted on the Internet.
As in the
about computer literacy, the questions are based on a combination of
genuine curiosity and uncertainty. The result is stress and anxiety:
just as we seem to be able to start to take computers for granted,
is technological change about to make us feel inadequate again? Even
worse, are we missing a business opportunity that our competitors are
taking advantage of? I'd suggest that Internet-worriers try to relax.
Internet is real--
it's been around and growing since the early 1970s, when it got a start
as an experiment funded by the U.S. military to see how dispersed
between computers could withstand a nuclear attack. From these
with a couple of computers, it has grown to an estimated 300,000-plus
networked computers spanning the globe (yes, there's even an Internet
site in the Antarctic). And it's growing-- the number of sites and
users almost doubles every year-- a rate that would suggest that within
a decade, the whole world will be spending all its time connected.
(Of course, the rate of growth will level off well before that point.)
growth has been
achieved by expanding the university science and computer-lab user-base
that initially hooked into the Internet. The new Internet is favoured
by an odd assortment of art students, underground musicians, and
Despite the Internet's initial anti-business bias, more and more
enterprises have found themselves making use of it.
common use is
simply for e-mail (with a bit of a competition to get
addresses), both within the organization and for product support with
customers. That's relatively simple to implement, and can bring real
benefits-- a complement to more traditional fax-back services, for
have tried to
use the Internet as a way to market a product-- in some cases, posting
a catalogue, in some cases, even automatically taking orders, and
credit cards on-line.
sales over the
Internet are getting a lot of attention, I suspect that this high-tech
replacement for the Home Shopping Network isn't really here
quite yet. There are security problems sending credit-card information
over public Internet lines: that credit-card number must pass through
literally dozens of computers between buyer and seller.
be the lack of organization of the Internet. You've hired a consultant
to create a flashy, graphical home page for your company, and posted
it on the 'Net. Will people be able to find it? There are several
new sites popping up every week, getting listed in a document updated
every few days... but for Internet users, there's no real equivalent
to the Yellow Pages. (If one did exist, it would be out of date
as soon as it was published.)
with a card catalogue, it may make more sense to think of the Internet
as 300,000 libraries, with 300,000 card catalogues. While net-surfing
can be more fun than watching TV, actually trying to find something
in particular can be an exercise in frustration. It makes me wonder
what sales volume anyone is actually achieving through those new
In a way,
most of the home-computer "boomlet" of the early '80s. Spurred on by
fears of becoming computer-illiterate, millions of people purchased Commodore
VIC-20s, Coleco Adams, and other early
home computers which quickly found their way to closets or flea markets
as users discovered no real use for them.
Internet may evolve
into an invaluable resource for businesses of all sizes, just as
computers ultimately became a tool on every desktop. And some Internet
services, such as e-mail, are probably a benefit right now.
But for most
and businesses wondering if they need the Internet, my suggestion has
to be "don't worry." Let the early adopters work out the problems for