Not that long ago, when the general public was just getting to know the internet, the imagery, text, spinning globe, and flashing colors shown through a big fat CRT monitor was collectively referred to as the internet. To an average person, the computer or the internet is what you see on the monitor. Ever seen movies where a man with a gun shoots at the monitor thinking he’s destroying the computer? Right. I bring this up to point out that to the general public, the internet has a physical size; it’s the size of the monitor or the display.
Throughout the early years of the internet boom, computers became a necessity if you wanted the internet. Companies and professionals who work with computers buy them as tools of the trade. They always have and always will. But what if you were someone who otherwise absolutely have no need for a computer? In those days, you were forced to buy one. You simply had no other choice if you wanted the internet. Since the internet was the “thing”, everybody bought a computer. This is the time when PC sales skyrocketed exponentially.
Fast forward to modern times. PC sales plummet exponentially. In this day of mobile internet and smartphones, an average Joe doesn’t need to buy a full blown computer to use the internet (you can configure a wi-fi router using a smartphone, in case you were wondering). Computers as we know it is no longer a required appliance for most households. These days you’d buy a full blown computer only if you need them for your job or hobby. Otherwise, you can get away by having a tablet or a smartphone and still fully enjoy a modern, connected lifestyle. You can say for the general population, the internet is actually getting smaller, physically.
What does this all mean for us web professionals? The first Sony Walkman altered how people enjoyed music. It made music personal and portable. As the portability of music evolved so did the delivery method from cassette to CD to mp3 to cloud. When the microwave oven modified the way people prepared food, what we buy from supermarkets changed. Content stayed more or less the same. It’s just the delivery method that change.
In recent years, we’ve seen online content delivery methods evolve into various forms such as apps, mobile sites, and responsive and adaptive designs. Web professionals are among the quickest to adapt to change. Even as we speak, we are in the middle of an undeniable revolution that will change the form of the internet itself. We have already focused on mobile first. But many of us are still under the assumption that a typical user would have a choice to view something on a larger screen. I predict that such assumption may prove to be false in few short years. For most people, a tablet or a smartphone may be the only screen. This will affect how we design and deliver web content at all levels.
As the “smaller” internet becomes the norm, it will continue to create series of challenges. Portable music players have become ubiquitous but there are still people who listen to music sitting at home through a large loudspeaker. People still prepare food without using microwave oven. An original form in which something was popularized usually takes generations to vanish completely. Vinyl records are still being produced and film photography still exists. Likewise, there always will be a demographic using the internet on a large computer screen. There will always be serious business applications that may only be used on large screen. As web developers and designers we need to be prepared to cater to all of the available platforms.
We know that in some way or form the internet will exist. And it’s logical to expect that many new and strange platforms and devices will continue to challenge our creativity until we are stuck by a giant comet. It’s not easy keeping up and being alert in a field where the next big thing becomes so last week in matter of hours. But luckily, there are plenty tools and technologies available that will enable us to tackle such challenges. It’s fun and interesting time to be in the web development profession.
As far as future movies go, I think Hollywood producers are more likely to get it right when a dude with a gun shoots at a computer which will most likely be a tablet of some sort. In which case both the display and the data would be destroyed. That is, unless, the data have been stored in the cloud. =)