The Internet — perhaps our most incredible invention, through which walls have fallen, knowledge has spread, and togetherness has grown. With new services and connected devices being released everyday, we often ask each other what the next Internet will look like. Except there won’t be a next Internet at all.
Because the Internet is going to disappear.
Historically, our information and the spread of it was largely spatial-based, that is, our interfaces were static and stationary, dependent on the locations of the knowledge and of the seeker. Books could be found at the library, news was heard in front of the TV. We had to travel far and wide to understand, and learning new skills was time-consuming.
The Internet has shifted our lives from spatial-based to temporal-based. The information we receive no longer depends on where we are, but rather when we want it. No longer do you have to be in the right place to catch the action. Want to see a historic SpaceX landing? Watch it in realtime, then replay it multiple times, right on your phone. Missed your flight for a conference? You can reach the office instantly through VPN, remote desktop, and a video call, all while stuck at the airport.
Our surroundings and interfaces now follow the dimension of time, resulting in a never-ending stream of content that is not dependent on where you are. We have risen above the limitations of space and distance. Instead of physically traveling to different locations at certain times, we transport ourselves through the fabric of the Internet, using our devices as portals.
In many ways, the explosion and spread of the Internet is comparable to that of electricity. During the late 1800s, as electricity began rolling out to cities around the U.S. and the world, it was a luxury product and very expensive to set up. But the ambition to conquer the darkness of nighttime was strong, so many cities began constructing tall towers with several high-intensity lamps that would rid the nearby areas of darkness. Of course, not everyone got direct light from these towers, but these manmade moons were a huge leap forward. Eventually, every house got its own electric connection and power became a public utility. Today, especially in developed countries, we no longer have to think about electricity or its availability – it is built into all homes and we simply use it and don’t notice its presence until there is an outage.
Likewise, the Internet started as a luxury, and just like the light towers, cell towers were the best way to get more of the public connected. Many companies are currently working on innovative solutions to get rural areas connected and online. But most homes today have Internet connections built-in and cell networks can reach most urban populations. The Internet is always on and always around us – our devices just tap into it whenever needed.
In the coming years, the Internet will embed itself in almost every faction of our lives. The number of connections on the Internet is increasing rapidly, estimated to reach 20 billion devices by 2020. A new category of devices called the Internet of Things, or IoT, is poised to merge us with our surroundings. At the moment, IoT devices include thermostats, speakers, LED light bulbs, doorbells, and even clothing. IoT devices communicate with each other and their human operators through the Internet, and usually stay on without any need to turn them off. They are ready when we need them, and silent when we don’t.
This web of constantly available and connected devices is what can make the Internet disappear – no longer is it a separate technology that needs dedicated effort to use. It is always on, and instead of being like a swimming pool we have to dive into and climb out of, it is like the air we breathe. It is an essential part of our lives that functions as an extension of our being, and there is no separating us from it. The Internet grows and evolves when we do, and as we shape it, it shapes us in return. It is a manifestation of our collective consciousness – our imagination, our creativity, and our humanity.
“We are all now connected by the Internet, like neurons in a giant brain.”
~ Stephen Hawking