Not since the introduction of the the Gutenberg Press has any single technological innovation done more to change the manner in which any society communicates than has the public adoption of the Internet in the 1990s. These changes are reflected in the sheer volume of businesses that have been forever altered or made obsolete as well as the many previously acknowledged terms seen as household words being relegated to a subset of our vocabulary known as trivia.
The telecommunications industry went from virtually impregnable to nearly decimated directly due to the unprecedented growth of the Internet. With the explosive adoption of dialup connectivity in the mid-1990s the number of households adding second telephone lines created a need for additional area codes as the available telephone number pool in many locations was being exhausted. Shortly thereafter the problem reversed itself as people began canceling their Internet lines in favor of broadband. With the introduction of VoIP, or Voice over Internet Protocol, provided by companies like Vonage, the elimination of a home's primary land line reached a point where the question became whether the traditional copper telephone network could be sustained. During a three-year period from 2000 through 2003 the telecommunications industry saw an unprecedented correction in their combined stock value often seen as being caused by the perception that these companies had incorrectly assessed the impact the Internet was having on their business model.
In a relatively short time countless words became part of our lexicon, including booting up, email, voice mail, online, web, cybering, Google, Yahoo, anything dot com, e-anything, website and Twitter. At the same time household terms like Polaroid, pen pal, cassette, and carbon copy paper all vanished from our vocabulary, along with phone book, fax, and long distance charges. In an attack that makes many of the older generation cringe, the very roots of our language have come under attack as txting and IMing may have 4eva changed the rulz of spelling and grammar. And with the ability to conduct in depth discussion, reading cursive script or even handwriting of any kind seems to be vanishing along with the skills necessary to create literary works in clear, eloquently written, English instead of commonly used jargon.
Kodak, once synonymous with photographic film, no longer sells Kodachrome. Polaroid, the company that pioneered instant photography, now manufactures digital cameras with integrated printers. Without question the hardest-hit industry is mass media, as advertising revenue has all but disappeared along with viewers and readers. There once existed a massive typewriter industry, the very cornerstone of business, now gone. Music stores became iTunes, while video rentals became downloads or Video on Demand courtesy of Blockbuster and Netflix.
At one time the rotary phone existed in almost every household until it was displaced by the Touchtone phone. This transition took the better part of half a century, and now Webcams allow the nuclear family to see one another "face to face" across the Internet. Digital pictures of grandchildren and great-grandchildren are delivered almost instantly, while movies of all types are uploaded on YouTube. Stories of how our military personnel were able to "virtually" be present for the birth of their children or other momentous family events have forever changed not only how we communicate but how we describe communications at the basest level. And with the impending release of a virtual high definition 3D representation that floats in space, as opposed to being presented on a flat screen, what was once the domain of science fiction will soon become reality.
Perhaps the most insidious effect on society is the widening gap in understanding between the generations. While senior citizens are one of the fastest growing age groups adopting Internet use, their ability to communicate with teenagers is diminishing. As seniors are just learning to use email, the youngest segment of our population is unlikely to even have an email address, preferring to use IM while spending hours on end at social networking sites as their primary means of communication. The 20- to 35- year-old demographic matured with the ready availability of computers and Internet access, which contrasts with the 40- to 60-year-old segment of our population, who largely shunned typing in school and are running to catch up or stay current with the rapidly changing trends. This technological deficit has manifested itself in any number of ways but is most pronounced in several industries, where executive management is incapable of comprehending the evolution of this technology while still remaining responsible for the day-to-day operation of many of the largest traditional industries.