How will the NBN transform our lives?December 20, 2010
It was at Promontory Point, near Salt Lake City in Utah in the summer 1869 that Leland Stanford drove a golden spike into a railway sleeper. In doing so he connected the East and West coasts of America via rail. This connection reduced the 4 months it took to cross coast to coast to 1 week. This new infrastructure transformed the trade of both goods and ideas. Connecting the coasts unified the American story and facilitated the wealth that would spread American power and culture to every corner of the planet.
The passing of a bill in Australia’s Parliament a few weeks ago marked a major turning point in the nation’s culture though it’s significance was largely missed by the media and public. It paved the way to separate the retail and wholesale businesses of the telecommunication giant Telstra, enabling the roll out of the National Broadband Network (NBN), the largest infrastructure project in the history of the Australia. Though not yet a golden spike moment this landmark event deserves greater emphasis and acknowledgment than it has received.
Naysayers argue the financial and political peripheries, rather than the societal transformation that this infrastructure could facilitate. In fairness, inspiring people with the potential of the NBN is like selling a coast-to-coast railway when people are still getting around on horseback. The NBN is an infrastructure network with a capacity that vastly exceeds the current usage behaviors and expectations of Australia’s internet users. Certainly, it’s potential to change the ways we think, relate, share and trade exceeds the imaginations of a generation for whom fax machines were revolutionary. What will speeds 100 times faster than our current experience will make available, and how that will be useful?
Returning to the rail analogy we can see the digital frontier as the Wild West of America during the 19th century. Our current wireless and ADSL networks are like the network of train tracks across cyberspace facilitating trade between the new open tracts of land and the hoards in the cities, hungry for the new and the cheap. Initially it’s usefulness is going to be limited by the capacity of other elements in the system – the engines, the stations, the passengers, the produce, the traders, the farmers and the ideas. The speed of a horse won’t be much different whether it’s following the trail or freshly laid train tracks.
To get a glimpse of the what will flourish on the new system we can look to what is struggling in the current system. In recent years VIDEO has overrun the web despite the limitations of quality and smooth streaming. In November 2010 YouTube reached a magic milestone of 35 hours of uploaded content per minute and cemented its position as #2 search engine in the world – ahead of Yahoo and behind its parent company, Google.
With the speed and quality that the NBN will make available Web Video is the train engine that will fully exploit this new high-speed track. Web Video on our new high-speed networks will have 4 major interconnected impacts that will transform our lives.
1. HUMANIZING DIGITAL: web video is ushering in a new era of face-to-face digital communications. This will boost how many of us use it, how often we use it, what we use it for. Reading and writing text are a fairly recent addition to the human communication tool box and engaging powerfully with text is still limited to a certain segment of the community. Face-to-face communication promises to overcome many of the current barriers between digital haves and digital have-nots.
2. CONNECTIONS: web 2.0 was all about the rise of ’social’ media and ’social’ networks. Expect this trend to explode as high quality video communications enable us to make more connections, based on more trust, understanding, collaboration and emotional depth, with more people right across the planet.
3. INNOVATION: high-speed, high-quality video will enable us to much more clearly share our expertise and passions, showing how we are doing what we do. Coupled with the increase in our number and quality of connections this will accelerate the spiral of creativity and innovation that has been unleashed in the first era of web video.
4. REMOTE ACCESS: Again, this is an acceleration of an already unfolding phenomenon in which we are able to work, meet, learn, consult, shop, be treated and play in a decentralized way.
Will the NBN fundamentally transform our lives in the way that rail transformed America? Or will it be a bit more of what we already have, received a bit more quickly? Each new generation of technological upgrade seems to promise revolution, but it is rare for our day-to-day lives to shift in response. This new infrastructure does, however, enable sharing of ideas in such a powerful way that we will have more minds than ever before envisioning just what is possible.