Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Baby Web



“Hello,
Is there anybody in there?
Just nod if you can hear me
Is there anyone home?”
- Pink Floyd

Do you remember when you had to call the Internet?  It really wasn’t that long ago.  Remember you would call the web and the web would say, “I’m sorry, I’m very busy right now.  Please call me back later.”  We would try a different number, or we would pretend we were calling long distance and try an out-of-state number.  We just kept trying to call the Internet, no matter how much it just didn’t want to talk to us.   After trying for what seemed like hours, we would finally get through.  Then someone would walk into the kitchen, pick up the yellow wall phone hanging there, and knock us right off again!  Very frustrating experience. 

What was our reward for all this effort?  A web page with lots of words, sentences, and paragraphs, that had links to other web pages that were filled with words, sentences, and paragraphs with links to other words, and so on.  That was our web experience and we have to remember that it wasn’t that long ago.   Today we get frustrated if we have a slow web connection while traveling on an airplane with a hundred other web users at 35,000 feet at 525MPH.  Oh how quickly we forget.

It took the telephone 75 years to reach 50 million users.  It took the radio 38 years to reach 50 million users.  The TV set did it in 13 years.  50 million of us were using the web in just four short years.  If you look at the use of websites or apps, things are only getting faster.  For example, in just 35 days, Angry Birds Space had 50 million users.  33% of the world is online.  When I started at Google, it was 16%.

The web is a baby.  We just started using it and already, most of us do not know what we would do without it.  The web is where we read, where we learn, where we share and collaborate, and where we socialize.  Whether you use your laptop, your tablet, or your mobile phone, think about how you use the web and how many times a day you call the Internet today. 

In just a few short years, we went from viewing static web pages full of text, to collaborating with 10 others on documents in real time, looking at each other face to face.  We went from reading blocks of content to having access to 3 billion hours of video on YouTube.  We went from sending emails to our friends with links to websites to check out, to clicking on one of the thousands of articles, blog posts, articles, or videos shared with us by those we selected to be in our network every day.  In just a few short years, the web has become an integral part of our lives. 

Something funny happened over the last Thanksgiving break.  My 11 year old (10 at the time) asked me what Cyber Monday was.  I thought it was a funny question.  I explained to him that it was the Monday after Thanksgiving when all the online retailers had their “Black Friday” sales.  He asked a logical question, “why?”  He didn’t understand why the online shops wouldn’t also have their blowout sales on Friday.  He didn’t understand why they waited until Monday.  He wanted to know what was so special about Monday.  Do you remember why?  The reason we have Cyber Monday is because there was a time when all our “technology” was at work.  The Internet access at work was better than the access we had at home (if we had access at all).  The computer we used (usually a desktop) was at work.  Lots of us didn’t have computers at home.  We certainly didn’t have laptops, tablets, or smart phones.  The applications we relied on were at work.  We have Cyber Monday because we had to go to work to do our online shopping.  We didn’t have the option of doing it at home on Saturday or Sunday.  Cyber Monday, which isn’t that old to begin with, is already ancient folk lure to my 11 year old.

Somewhere in the last few years we crossed over from being a “work technology” culture to a “consumer based technology” culture.  We do everything online.  The applications and programs we use are web-based.  Can you imagine buying a product without reviewing it online first?  Can you imagine pulling out an encyclopedia to find an answer to a question you had?  We all can clearly see how dramatically and drastically the way we deal with information and knowledge has changed.

Education hasn’t been able to keep up with these changes and I think that makes sense.  It is true that my 11 year olds’ classroom looks pretty much the same as it did 20 years ago.  I understand.  The changes have come in waves and at a speed education was not set up to handle.  Totally understand.  Wait time is over.  I think it’s time education started catching up and got into the game. 

The web is a baby and the way we use technology is relatively new.  Most of us can see now how the use of these tools can be applied to education.  All that is great news but that’s not why I want education to jump into the game.  I want it in the game because of what’s coming.  If we all see the benefits of what we can do today in education with technology and the web, can you imagine what we’re going to be able to do in 2 years, or 5 years, or in the next 20 years?

Yes, the web is a baby but it’s growing up.  We haven’t even begun to imagine it’s possibilities.