The Internet as Infrastructure

Like electricity or roads, the Net will become so basic and necessary that we'll take it for granted

By Sky Dayton

(Originally published January, 2000)

If you're like me, your friends and family may think of you as an Internet "addict." The Internet has become as necessary as a fresh cup of coffee in the morning. The day just can't get started without logging on. Maybe a lot of us ARE addicts. When the Internet is not available to us, we really notice. It's become fundamental to our lives.

My wife and I found ourselves in that situation earlier this year when we traveled to Egypt so she could finish researching her latest novel. Though Egypt is an amazing country, and well worth a visit, easy and widely available Internet access is unfortunately not one of its attractions. In three days, the two of us racked up a $1200 phone bill for logging on to the Net. Yikes!

This brings up a broader issue. Egypt, and other Third World countries, are being left out of the world economy to the degree their citizens have difficulty getting online. Though these countries lag behind in other areas, their lack of Internet access only perpetuates their current situation. Putting citizens directly and easily in contact with the rest of the world would be a huge step toward raising their quality of life.

This will become increasingly important over the next few years. Considering the growth of the Internet and Internet users, it's pretty clear that the Internet will become more and more basic to our lives. We might be the last generation to marvel at the amount of time we spend online. Our children will take the Internet for granted. In fact, they may not even know of the Internet as a discreet thing. It will just be infrastructure, like basic electricity and roads.

For the Internet generation, applying for a job in another country will be simple and normal. Being daily pen pals with someone half a world away will be nothing special. Hearing news firsthand from people who are there will be expected. Starting your own online store will be just as traditional as the mom-and-pop grocery store on the corner — only a lot easier.

And once they manage to get themselves connected in the coming years, citizens of poor countries like Egypt will no longer be disenfranchised by geography. They will be able to participate in the world economy. In fact, they will bring the world economy to their homes, and will begin to share in the prosperity the Internet is promoting around the world.

Right now, however, we are still pioneers. We are still blazing trails. Despite its amazing growth, the Internet is still a frontier town. You can't do everything you want online. Most newspapers and magazines have only a few years of back issues archived and available. You can't find all the stores you want online. Some of the services you want don't even exist yet. Many processes are still complicated and difficult. And the experience is slower than most of us would like.

This is because the Internet hasn't been fully invented yet. But it's moving very fast. What took decades in the American West, with men and women building cities from scratch, will take mere years in the online world. Whole empires are now being born daily, and innovations are constantly springing up to make your Internet experience more valuable to you.

In light of how new the Internet is to the world, I recently started a new company called eCompanies to help the Internet grow at light speed. With EarthLink's backing, eCompanies is an incubator of Internet companies, and we hope it will give birth to dozens of start-ups that will make the Internet your most valuable tool for ANYTHING you want to do.

The best is yet to come. In a matter of a few years, when the Internet begins to reach its full potential, the whole world will pass through it. And then it won't be the "Internet" at all. It will simply be the way the world runs.

So if you, like me, have been labeled an addict, never fear. You are simply at the vanguard of things to come. In the next generation you won't be addicted to the Internet any more than you could be addicted to air or water or transportation.