The Shifting Web

The Shifting Web Recently, I bought myself a new iPad and sat down to explore it one day at home. It was an interesting – sometimes even revelatory experience. That is not to say that I thought the device didn’t have its flaws but it spawned thoughts of Captain Kirk tapping away at some futuristic device.

While happily busy swiping and gesturing, my 4-year-old daughter came into the room and took a look at the device. I readied myself for the “ooohs” and “aaahs” and the eager questions. However, she didn’t bat an eye; a quick glance and then she was asking me about playing pretend.

That got me thinking about the nature of technology and how we react and adapt to it. Why was my reaction to the iPad so much different? I think it was a question of learned expectations. My experience had taught me such a device belonged in a science fiction film while my daughter had no sense of that. Everything in the world was still possible and she just hasn’t been on the Earth long enough to begin narrowing down and categorizing those possibilities. If I had walked into our new transporter room next, she would have just followed happily along to wait to see where we’d get beamed to. But in my case – and for most adults, we’ve already got our rules in place. However, the idea of how quickly and firmly we can define our expectations around things – especially technology – struck me as fascinating and even a bit funny.

On the one hand we seem to accept and codify technological advancement quickly as if to set it in stone and be done with it (it quickly becomes the background to our everyday life) but yet at the same time we’re always keenly aware and anticipating the next big thing in relation to what is “now”. It’s an odd dynamic and I think this approach has led us to use technological change as a kind of timekeeping device – it let’s us measure progress and the passage of events and ways of living. Our ability to absorb these advancements and file them as “today” allows us to anticipate “tomorrow” – even if we can’t quite envision what tomorrow might bring.

So how does this relate to websites? Websites have been around a while now – it was 15 years ago when I started working on them. In that time, they haven’t changed that much – at their core they’re basically still a set of pages through which we navigate. In the world of technology, they’re getting very old and they’ve had a massive amount of time (relatively speaking) to firmly entrench themselves in our accepted psyche of what the Web and the Internet are – what the “now” is. That leaves the door open for “tomorrow” – and we’ve been waiting for it for awhile now.

Well finally, for the first time in those 15 years, it might be approaching.

The advent of the iPhone has given rise to the culture of mobile web access and apps. People are still using the Internet (that thing that connects us all and allows for transmission of information) – but they’re relying less on the web (that thing that is actually some of the information the internet transmits – websites and web pages). Instead, users are looking to apps more often instead of websites for gathering information. They’re becoming more focused on the mobile experience – looking for specific pieces of information quickly and efficiency – not inclined to sift through many websites, browsing in a more leisurely fashion. Our habits of accessing information on the Internet are beginning to shift.

Given our ability to embrace technological change quickly and easily, it’s fair to say this shift is becoming well entrenched but it isn’t going to end soon as we continue to evolve and look for the next big thing. This should make for a very interesting phase in the evolution of the Internet and communications – and really, for the first time in those 15 years that evolution (revolution?) is looking like a significant one. Sure, websites will continue to exist for years to come but what will happen to them? Will they evolve in unpredictable ways or disappear as we know them?

Of course, that’s much harder to predict. I couldn’t really envision sitting down with an iPad device 20 years ago while watching Star Trek reruns – and I certainly can’t begin to fathom what kind of experience will light up my daughter’s eyes in 30 years like the iPad did with mine. In the meantime, all we can do is remain open to the shift, embrace it and stay cognisant of where the “ooohs” and “aaahs” come from and where they don’t.

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