Network: We have the technology

It is people, not technology, who will shape the future
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The Independent Culture
IT'S THE next big thing, the killer app, the Internet wonder to end all wonders. It's bigger than's market capitalisation, and Yahoo!'s investors' expectations.

It's faster than a speeding Pentium and bigger than an iMac shipment. It will easily outpace and outlive the Internet bubble. It puts all technology to shame. Every investor can take this one to the bank and retire on it.

So what is the subject of this particular fortnightly dispatch?

Why, people of course. And not just the geeky techno people either. People, not technology, will shape the future - on the Web and everywhere else.

The networked world means that advances in one area are quickly borrowed, developed and launched into other areas, where further development results in yet more advanced concepts, and so on. Technological pace seems locked into an ever-increasing rate of change. Moore's law has already had its doors blown off, and we've hardly begun.

This century has seen humanity go from horsedrawn cart to interplanetary space probe. Most schoolchildren have a greater grasp of science and culture than did whole kingdoms of nobility a millennium ago, even if their reading skills aren't much better.

It's true that technology threatens to widen the opportunity gap between the technologically literate and those less so. History teaches us that big gaps between the haves and have-nots lead to social disruptions and revolution.

Nevertheless, mere working-class stiffs can do things, such as fly to New York, that not even a king could have done a few generations ago. Global communications have made the world seem rife with human horror. Yet today we are far more likely to survive childhood and reach a mature old age than people 100 or 200 years ago.

No matter how fast technology moves, there are real limits in this world, and those are the limits of living, breathing human beings. There is a limit to our interest in anything, including technology.

We spent hundreds of thousands of years evolving and those hard-won Darwinian advantages don't quickly disappear. Stephen Hawking estimates that the human genome changes by only a few bits (in a trillion) every thousand years. Technology adds billions of bits to human knowledge probably hourly.

But in gauging which technology will be the next big winner we don't have to look much further than PT Barnum, or Shakespeare for that matter. They excelled at pressing their respective eras' technologies into profitable service by understanding the needs and wants of their audiences. Barnum's "sucker born every minute" philosophy was the basis for a three-ring empire.

And, in 1999, I'd be wise to back technology companies that focus on who people are and what they need. Just look at the 100 most-often- entered search terms - they're very, very human (sex, of course, is first).

Of course, people need a computer and an Internet connection before they can get to the search engines, so those sorts of companies are good investments. They need instruction manuals and websites that update with the ever- changing information needed to get around in cyberspace.

In short, all we have to do is draw a line between a human and his or her needs and tick off all the technological dots necessary to connect the points into a line. Call it linear human Net-trajectory plotting. Or common sense. There's a Web page born every minute.