How Broadband Has Changed the World (Part 3): A Look at Modern Day Internet Culture

How Broadband Has Changed the World (Part 3): A Look at Modern Day Internet Culture
“You are terrified of your own children since they are natives in a world where you will always be immigrants. Because you fear them, you entrust your bureaucracies with the parental responsibilities you are too cowardly to confront yourselves. In our world, all the sentiments and expressions of humanity, from the debasing to the angelic, are parts of a seamless whole, the global conversation of bits. We cannot separate the air that chokes from the air upon which wings beat.”
- John Perry Barlow | “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” 1990

The last 20+ years of mainstream internet use has been leading up to this.

Last week we discussed how Napster started the Web 2.0 revolution, and if you’ve been wondering how broadband has changed the world, just ask the music industry.

Ask the people in the movie industry how legal services like Netflix are shaking them up. Ask the people in the newspaper industry how Craigslist has stolen their classified revenues.

Ask those in vaporized industries, like video rental stores, record stores and film labs. Ask the people in industries who are on the edge of extinction, like bookstores and movie theaters.

All of this disruption was caused by streaming video and music, digital publishing, and of course, online shopping - and it’s possible partially because, between 2000 and 2010, broadband usage grew from 4.4% to 68%. In the last five years, that number rose to 83%, with the average American having seven internet connected devices.

It’s everywhere. As the internet has grown and gotten faster, it has been shaking up every area of our daily lives.

The most recent headlines read big box retailers like Wal-Mart are shutting down stores, and all across America, malls, a pillar of the western shopping experience are dropping like flies. “Within 15 to 20 years, retail consultant Howard Davidowitz expects as many as half of America's shopping malls to fail.”

Now I’d like to remind you, dear reader, that ecommerce currently makes up 7% of all shopping –  it seems to me, we’ve only just gotten started.

Consider that in 1995, only 14% of US adults had internet access —  in 2015, that figure jumped to 84% and 89.59 million people are connecting instantaneously.

Also consider there is an entire generation of young adults who have never known the world without internet and an even larger group who matured along with it (and we’re notoriously difficult to market to).

It’s all become so routine that for the most part, we’ve gotten past our collective fear of buying things online, thanks to consumer protections like PCI Compliance (introduced in 2004), peer reviews, social proof, and broad acceptance of social networking. In 2014, Pew Research reported that 56% of adults 65 and older were using Facebook.

Don’t take this at face value — I’m not saying “Isn’t it cute that grandma uses Facebook?” What I am saying is much more profound.

We’re becoming a globally connected society, across every single demographic, and there is no going back.

Now, let it sink in that 20-30 years from now, the last generations to remember the world without internet will start dying off.

As it is right now, around 1/3 world’s population is online. For those who aren’t, initiatives like and Project Loon aim to bring high-speed internet to those areas of the world who can not connect. If Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt is right, the entire world will be connected by 2020. By that time, 40% of America’s workforce will be freelancers. What will that look like for our global economy?

Here’s what it looks like for me right now: I work on a fully remote team. I can talk to a colleague in Estonia, get notes from my editor two time zones over, and deliver the final product to a client in Australia, without any regard for time or space.

This scenario wasn’t possible ten years ago.

Before I started writing this article, I added some thoughts to the draft on my phone while walking to a doctor’s appointment. Those thoughts were ready for me to pick up on my laptop when I got home.

This process wasn’t feasible even five years ago.

When I finish working, I might watch the Emmy award winning “Orange is the New Black” or “Transparent" using different apps on my smart tv.

Three years ago, they said “internet-only” shows couldn’t win awards.

Later, I’ll watch my favorite Youtuber's videos and contribute to their Patreon account.

It won’t occur to me that “making internet videos” for even a modest living has only been possible for less than a decade, or that media is doing its best to invalidate “internet celebrities” who are siphoning away ad dollars and threatening the traditional media establishment.


When I’m feeling bored, I’ll use my phone to search Etsy and buy something handmade from an artist I don’t know, or download a self-published book from a trending writer on the Kindle store — all without giving a second thought that I’m participating in an indie creator economy.

Tomorrow, I’ll update the backers of my Kickstarter project on the status of “The Freelancer Planner” and I’ll do a Google Hangout with my manufacturer to make sure everything is on schedule.

When I stream my music over Spotify, it will not occur to me that the music industry is still, 17 years later, coming to terms with Napster’s impact.

As I scroll through an endless stream of photos on Instagram, I won’t give a second thought that once upon a time this was considered fast:

Not one aspect of my daily life would have been possible 20 years ago.

Today, thanks to near-ubiquitous broadband speeds, we’re developing technologies to deliver the instantaneous experience of the internet in the real world. Services like UberRUSH will deliver your online purchases in hours, not days, and in select markets, the skies will be filled with drones delivering goods in minutes, not hours.

High-speed transportation companies like Hyperloop are breaking ground, which will have a substantial impact on domestic logistics and potentially overseas shipping.

As of this past Friday, Google’s driverless car has been legally recognized as a driver.

When you step back, it’s a lot to take in.

It’s only when you consider how far we’ve come that you realize just how easy it’s been to get swept up in it all, and just how much we’ve taken for granted.

If history has taught us anything, it’s that 20 years from now, today will look as archaic as the 90s.

What an incredible time to be alive.

About the Author

Michelle Nickolaisen is a freelance writer and business owner based in Austin, TX.