20 Years Later: The Internet Revolution & Small Business
By: David Sussman, Valcor
‘It was 20 years ago today’… In 1994 the economy was coming out of recession. Our fledgling business consulting firm was just getting going while we were all facing an incoming technological tsunami that would forever change the way we communicated.
We were being introduced to new words: “Internet”. “World Wide Web”. “Email”. “Information SuperHighway”.
We were learning how to log on, send messages via our 386 computers while shoving 5.25″ floppy disks into drives to see data on screen. We already had the ability to print out spreadsheets on dot matrix printers, and now, without a fax or telex, miraculously we could send them as attachments to the next office, next state, or around the world.
Through our squawking, beeping 14.4 modems, we would hear “You Got Mail”. Communication would never be the same.
We registered domain names and spent thousands of dollars hiring web designers. We rushed to the ‘PC Superstores’ CompUSA and Circuit City to buy the fastest machines, newest operating systems, soundcards, CD Roms, software, etc.
We adopted this new technology quickly and adapted just as fast.
We would no longer send ‘archaic’ handwritten letters following networking events; after all, email was a sign of progress and our company was ‘state of the art’. None of us wanted to be left behind.
We were also putting cell phones into our cars. The squiggly antenna on the rear window of my Ford Thunderbird signified I was ‘connected’. “I’m calling you on my car phone!” was no longer a sign of status, but simple utility. Unlike the 1980’s, it was now available at a price most any business person could afford. We were learning what instant communication meant. Instead of clients hearing “He is out of the office”, a client would now hear “would you like his cellular number”. The term ‘in constant contact’ was born.
Meanwhile, our computers were becoming the gateway to the world. Information had never been digested by people as fast or in such bulk.
Suddenly, the idea of waiting for Peter Jennings at 6 o’clock to learn the days events was becoming obsolete. Newspapers printed yesterdays headlines, while most people were viewing breaking news online.
We became aware of ‘instant’. The pace became rapid. Eventually we got faster connections via T-1’s, DSL, cable and now hi-speed wireless.
In 1994 I would have thought “Search Engine Optimization” meant going to the auto parts store in a quick and timely manner.
20 years later, our computers are faster, smaller and can hold more data than a building of servers once could. Moore’s Law was certainly prescient. While we still communicate via email, we also talk to each other through social media, video, webinars, VOIP and texting.
Now our lives are literally online. Pictures are uploaded and shared. Most people cannot remember the last time they had their photos ‘developed’. We bank, book travel, order meals, shop and see how past lovers age.
Through the internet we watch television, sports and first run movies. We send business plans, invoices, invites and can see aerial images of any building on earth. Smart phones are now ubiquitous and vital: we run our office, staff, clients, vendors and deals as well as enter group discussions, political debates and memoriams of friends and loved ones on social media. We are totally connected with each other.
20 years later, what is most amazing is there is now an entire generation of youths who do not know a time without the internet. When they want information, the idea of going to the library wouldn’t ever be considered; why, when they can ‘Google’ it. They want instant contact and expect instant response. They Tweet, Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram (my oldest sons favorite past time). On any given day we get to see pictures of peoples meals, memes and “selfies”. All of which were special enough to share with the world!
20 years later, beyond the narcissism, our businesses also now use these tools. We analyze data and are able to target potential clients, understand trends and changes in the marketplace. We create marketing campaigns and ad budgets for online commerce and digital media. We can enter into new markets with lower priced marketing and collateral.
Printing companies, music stores, book shops and other retailers have to combat internet pricing and many have been unable to adapt. Both large chains and small stores have all been forced to change their marketing models and distributions channels. Many have not survived.
While there have been many casualties, conversely there been many start ups and successful businesses created. New industries that didn’t exist now generate billions of dollars. Social media, Apps, data mining, and the ever expanding e-commerce are all based online. Information is available anytime. We can earn degrees from reputable universities and view updated statistics before they make the news. In turn we share information at the ‘speed of now’.
For many, especially those of us who graduated college before the revolution, it has been an ongoing learning process. The challenge to stay informed and tech savvy is continual, no matter our age. For example, my elderly mother signs on to Facebook with half smirk and half grimace.
“Things just move faster nowadays”.
“Yes, Mum, yes they do.”
Yet, she is now able to see her growing family around the world. It brings us all closer.
They say ‘if you went to Mars in 1994 and just returned today, you would have to relearn everything.’ Maybe, except I believe the golden rules still apply: Treat people the way you want to be treated while making the effort to speak and meet people in person. After all… Business has always been ultimately about relationships.
So as we continue to learn, adapt and connect, here’s to the next 20 years; Hopefully my 40th Anniversary post won’t be written by my Avatar or nanobots.David Sussman, CEO, Valcor: A small business advocacy firm with certified Licensees throughout North America. Valcor is celebrating their 20th Anniversary in 2014.