Looking back over ten years of change

So much has happened so fast in the past decade in respect of the emergence of the online economy that it is easy to forget some of the interesting responses we have confronted on this remarkable journey.

In the late 1970s I attended a conference in Phoenix, Arizona where they were discussing a revolutionary concept for encouraging greater industry/university interface. The then revolutionary concept was, of course, science and technology parks.

At that conference a memorable keynote speaker described himself as “ the oldest rat in the barn”. On the grounds of both chronology and experience I am beginning to understand how he felt.

If I can be forgiven for being just mildly anecdotal in the context of the online economy and last couple of decades; I can remember when,

• The Internet first became available in universities. It could only be viewed on a dull green screen, was purely text based and required a whole series of complicated commands to drive it.

• Telecom had just become Telstra and the senior management of Telstra had never heard of this thing called the Internet. Today there are people in Telstra who would have us believe they invented it

• Australia’s first online community in Ipswich asked Telstra for 500 lines into the new Global Info Links Building. They scoffed at the request and supplied 200. The take-up rate was such that nearby exchanges literally burnt out as a result of the traffic within twelve months and Telstra supplied the additional lines

• I was treated like an agent of darkness by the journalists of the Straits Times in Singapore because of my advocacy of the Internet in 1992 when I visited Singapore to deliver a keynote address on the impact of the Internet on education. Today Singapore not only embrace the Net but promote themselves as the intelligent island.

• Microsoft actually developed their own proprietary network designed to subsume the Internet. They promoted it in a highly elitist fashion, as THE place to which people of substance would go for quality information. Within twelve months Bill Gates scrapped the project and conceded that the Net was bigger and more ubiquitous than Microsoft.

• In 1993, Ipswich became the first community in Australia to ask Telstra for a mud map of the telecommunications infrastructure of the city. There was zero information at the local level about telecommunications infrastructure. Telstra refused point blank to provide the information on the grounds of ‘national security’. The Minister for Telecommunications in Canberra subsequently directed Telstra to provide the information. Six months later, a few pages of bare essential data arrived.

• Managers of all sorts of organisations would not have dreamed of allowing employees to have a telephone on their desk. If still around today, those same managers often require employees to have mobiles and beepers strapped to their person. During the nineties many managers would never in their wildest dreams approve of their employees being connected to the Net at their place of work.

Times are changing.

• Mal Bryce is chairman of Celebrating Lives and a former WA Deputy Premier.

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