What kind of haircut did you sport back when we were referring to the Internet as the “Information Superhighway”? Some hints: Beck was singing “Loser” and Sheryl Crow had not yet begun showing up at the grand opening of car dealerships when we were getting tingly about a coming techno-revolution that would deliver learning, shopping and entertainment on a home screen.
The “Superhighway” was coming to save us somewhere around the mid-1990s. Since then, often with less fanfare than a Madonna adoption, we’ve taken on all kinds of new communications baggage. It wasn’t enough to have Internet; we had to have fast Internet. Cell phones couldn’t just be small, they had to be flat. Then they had to take pictures. Well, actually, nobody was asking for the picture thing. We just had that pushed in our faces, literally.
Radio started beaming in from satellites in space, TV delivery went digital, and in almost all things we needed high definition. Public schools were hurting, but the funds devoted to developing sharper, clearer, more life-like images of the contestants on Fear Factor were apparently limitless. Meanwhile, the quest for better, faster delivery of Internet pornography brought us software and hardware innovations that coincidentally carried us forward to our current period of YouTube videos and animated e-mail attachments guaranteed to reduce on-the-job productivity.
So, here we are. It’s all good, all wonderful. The only chore left to consumers is to figure out how to pay for it.
I have a friend who is very anxious that we’re on the eve of destruction in terms of free Internet. His feeling is that, any minute now, tolls and fees are going to be assigned to every single move we make with our mouse and that we’ll be looking back at surfing with abandon with the same nostalgic glow we experience remembering free television.
Younger readers may not recall the time in America when a family bought a television set and received “content” for free. No cable bills, no cable service problems, no boxes. And, for better or worse, your set brought you everything that was out there, without the cultural Darwinism of corporations deciding what you get access to.
Last week Mexico announced a new surcharge on international cell phone calls to Mexico, adding a minimum additional charge of 14 cents to any cell phone to cell phone call made from outside Mexico. I don’t have to enumerate for you the millions of people impacted by this, nor do I have to go to lengths to describe the whopping profit that will be realized. But the beauty part for the corporations involved is that those customers who don’t like it can just go (ring tone) themselves.
Customers in Santa Monica who had Adelphia cable TV are now serviced by Time-Warner. Since the takeover, I’ve observed two things: That Time-Warner relentlessly runs ads about free service calls, and that my video has been freezing and breaking up then going black then coming back. I observe Time-Warner trucks in my neighborhood and assume they are working on this. But I’m pretty sure I don’t have anything to say about it one way or the other.
Funny thing about the future: it often seems to arrive without invitation. I don’t recall ever requesting cell phones, roaming charges, international surcharges, digital TV delivery, Hi-Def, spam, pop-up Internet ads, cookies, new DVD technology forcing new hardware on consumers, or a per each charge for every single e-mail I send. Why do I feel like that last one is out there, waiting…?