Background Noise

In the near future, the Internet will disappear.

Not in the way the starry-eyed visions of get-rich-quick investors fell to earth during April 14’s stock market drop, or in the manner dozens of entrepreneurs reached the end of their dot-commed rope. Instead, this disappearance will be blamed directly on the success of the Internet.

Back in the distant online past – 1995 – it was cause for major hype when a company launched a web site, no matter how insipid. Want to see the Maytag repairman – or Danni Ashe’s assets – on your PC monitor? Just click here.

But only a few years later, a major company stands out if it doesn’t have a web site. It has long ceased being news to buy a book online, or book a flight online, or even get the news online. It is now, however, news for any self-respecting professional to admit he or she hasn’t dipped a foot in the data flow to do some day-to-day task.

Jean-Louis Gassie, once head of Apple Computer’s product development efforts, told me at the time his book “The Third Apple” was released in 1987 that the PC would eventually become like the telephone. Not that it would become another communications tool hogged by teenagers, but that when you walked into a home, you’d notice the device’s absence more than its presence.

We may finally be at that point for the PC. Market research firm PC Data’s just-released Home PC Portrait study finds 61 percent of U.S. households have at least one personal computer.

And if PCs are finally becoming part of the background, the Internet – which relies on PCs as a technology platform, distribution channel, and access device – can’t be far behind. The same quarterly PC Data study shows that 52 percent of home U.S. computers are connected to the Internet, and that 28 percent of home users access the Internet several times each day. The arrival of Internet appliances not called PCs but with web functionality, such as Netpliance’s i-opener and Compaq’s iPaq, can only accelerate the Internet adoption pace.

There’s ample precedent for something as technologically cool as the Internet to rapidly become background noise. In the early ’80s, color computer monitors were cutting-edge. In the early ’90s, CD-ROM drives and software were blisteringly hot (and led to a rapid boom-bust cycle for CD-ROM software companies not unlike that now being felt by dot-coms).

Today, color screens and CD-ROM drives are boring. The Internet may have begun its ascent into boredom as the stock market and the general public acknowledge that what was once special is increasingly commonplace – and now gets to play by well-established business rules.

Just like its technological forebears, when the Internet goes away… it will finally have arrived.

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