It came upon us naturally, so effortlessly, that I don't think many of us know just how profound an influence it has on our lives. When people point to the great human inventions: the wheel, housing, electricity to the house, the automobile, surely, the web browser belongs too.
The browser, in and of itself, is just the medium just as paved roads are. It allows us to connect and access information easily. Once upon a time, if you had a question you didn't know the answer to, you were content not to have it answered. Maybe you'd have an encyclopedia, but more than likely you didn't. Now, you search for it on the net. People once wondered how we would manage the information overload, and it is the search engines that have let us deal with billions of webapges. Google and search engines like it (though there's nothing like it) give us roadmaps to the Internet, and now answers come that wouldn't be there otherwise.
I can hardly imagine how software development must have been like before the web was around. You would have to buy a compiler, and install it. If someone else had good software but didn't sell it, you would never know. Nowadays, you search, download, install, find examples, read tutorials, technical papers. You can do this and more with the browser.
Once upon a time, you had to have a map, and had to be able to read the map. Now, you can go to maps.yahoo.com or maps.google.com and get directions. You don't even have to read a map anymore (though, to be fair, a map still has its place, when you need something suitably large to get a feel for where things are relative to each other).
How many things can you now buy without having to visit the store? This isn't the days of Sears & Roebuck where you had huge catalogs. Now, many thousands of stores can advertise their wares, without a single catalog sent by mail.
All of this seems so incredibly pedestrian, that we forget how much the web has changed our lives. Broswers have opened avenues to non-standard forms of entertainment. Writers no longer need to work for a magazine to have their work noticed. They no longer need the pedigree of journalism degrees, nor interns at the Atlantic. If you're reading this, it's because browsers and the websites it connects, and the software that lives at the site, makes it possible. I spend no more effort writing this than I would an English essay, and an audience around the world can read it--or not.
Once we get beyond our basic needs of food and shelter, information becomes necessity of the 21st century. Can you even begin to imagine where technology will lead us? Entertainers need only entertain for thousands, but there will be so many of them, catering to desires that some of us never knew we had. People now make films for a mere thousand dollars, and distribute their work for free on the Internet. No agents. No distributors. No cast of hundreds. And possibly, yes, no talent. But with so many people producing so much creativity, surely a few, gifted geniuses will put their nuggets of gold somewhere on the net, somewhere amidst the dross and mediocrity, and someone, maybe you, will find this, and marvel at the insight, cleverness of our fellow humans.
Once upon a time, the vast majority of Americans married someone scant blocks from where they grew up, met people in their neighborhood. Cars have freed us some, to move to parts across these vast country. But the Internet now lets us reach even further, to even more people. We can talk to Australians as easily as the French, the Russians, and even those across the country, the state, the city, the block, and even the room. We can chat with those who have obscure interests. Do you love soccer, but want to find fanatics of Manchester United. Do you suffer from a rare disease, and seek others who have gone through what you have? Do you miss pots of nehari from the streets of Lahore? You can find people who live there now. No longer is communication to those of different countries only accessible by those who arrange pen pals. You can find people all over. In this brave new world, we've reinvented the way we deal with one another. Perhaps not for the better.
The most amazing things are yet to come, and they, like the browser, the killer app that will bring these wonders to us, will sneak up, and become part of everyday life. We'll hardly wonder how such a thing became part of our lives, so much that we no longer awe when we should. The marvels will seem so obvious, so ordinary, so mundane. And it's a shame that we won't be able to appreciate them as much as we should. We'll still go to work, and still buy food at the groceries, and still lament how much our waistline won't get smaller. And in all of that, we'll not realize that our lives have become, immeasurably fuller.
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