The scope of the Web today is hard to fathom. The total number of Web pages, including those that are dynamically created upon request and document files available through links, exceeds 600 billion. That's 100 pages per person alive.
How could we create so much, so fast, so well? In fewer than 4,000 days, we have encoded half a trillion versions of our collective story and put them in front of 1 billion people, or one-sixth of the world's population. That remarkable achievement was not in anyone's 10-year plan.
The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous. Today, at any Net terminal, you can get: an amazing variety of music and video, an evolving encyclopedia, weather forecasts, help wanted ads, satellite images of anyplace on Earth, up-to-the-minute news from around the globe, tax forms, TV guides, road maps with driving directions, real-time stock quotes, telephone numbers, real estate listings with virtual walk-throughs, pictures of just about anything, sports scores, places to buy almost anything, records of political contributions, library catalogs, appliance manuals, live traffic reports, archives to major newspapers - all wrapped up in an interactive index that really works.
This view is spookily godlike. You can switch your gaze of a spot in the world from map to satellite to 3-D just by clicking. Recall the past? It's there. Or listen to the daily complaints and travails of almost anyone who blogs (and doesn't everyone?). I doubt angels have a better view of humanity.
Why aren't we more amazed by this fullness? Kings of old would have gone to war to win such abilities. Only small children would have dreamed such a magic window could be real. I have reviewed the expectations of waking adults and wise experts, and I can affirm that this comprehensive wealth of material, available on demand and free of charge, was not in anyone's scenario. Ten years ago, anyone silly enough to trumpet the above list as a vision of the near future would have been confronted by the evidence: There wasn't enough money in all the investment firms in the entire world to fund such a cornucopia. The success of the Web at this scale was impossible.With the steady advance of new ways to share, the Web has embedded itself into every class, occupation, and region. Indeed, people's anxiety about the Internet being out of the mainstream seems quaint now. In part because of the ease of creation and dissemination, online culture is the culture. Likewise, the worry about the Internet being 100 percent male was entirely misplaced. Everyone missed the party celebrating the 2002 flip-point when women online first outnumbered men. Today, 52 percent of netizens are female. And, of course, the Internet is not and has never been a teenage realm. In 2005, the average user is a bone-creaking 41 years old.
I have been reading Kevin Kelly's musings in Wired magazine for several years. He is a great spokesman for the Internet.
I recall the first tme I saw the web. I was in the home of a friend. He started the Netscape browser and up came the home page. And the blue links. Everywhere! Click this one for CNN. Click this one for Newsweek. And I thought, wow, this is like having a subscription to every major magazine and newspaper in the country for $22 a month, the cost of an Internet connection. Amazing. And so it has continued to be.
I wonder about your first experience on the Internet. What was it like for you?