Interconnection: History in the Making
Part 1: The Dream to “Network Humans Through Technology”
In the groundbreaking 1995 book, “The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence,” Don Tapscott described an economy based on digital technologies that was “not simply about the networking of technology, but about the networking of humans through technology.”
As Tapscott recognized, some technologies are truly transformative. Not in the limited sense of a product category (a touch screen smartphone or a next-gen firewall), but in how they change modern life. They enhance how we transact and do business, boosting work productivity and efficiency in dramatic new ways. They change the way we interact with others and give us new ways to express human ingenuity. And perhaps most of all, truly transformative technologies open radical new pathways for innovation and economic development.
These kinds of world-changing economic and creative outcomes are encompassed by that now frequently-used phrase “the digital economy,” which describes an economic system that relies less on steel, mechanical engines and transportation infrastructure than on silicon, computing power and data networks. Looking back over the past 30 years, we see four eras of technological transformation that have shaped the digital economy and forever altered modern life. And at the center of all this radical change has been one pivotal catalyst: connectivity.
In this four-part blog series, we’ll explore the dynamic history of interconnection, share some exciting news from Equinix and take a look ahead at the next groundswell of innovation that will shape how we work and live. We will look at four eras: the computing era, the network era, the connected era and the interconnected era. First, we’ll focus on the computing era.
The Digital Economy’s Computing Era
Decades in the making, the mass market computing era took off in the ’80s, sparking unprecedented productivity gains. This was the digital economy’s nascent stage.
IBM made mainframes a must-have tool for corporations, and “Wintel” democratized computing for everybody. Customized mailings that once took an entire day and a typing pool to produce could be written, revised and printed by a single person in less than an hour. Financial ledgers that once took teams of accountants to compile could be completed in a fraction of the time using VisiCalc and, later, Lotus123 or Excel.
Companies such as Intel, Microsoft and Apple became household names, and whole new categories of software and peripheral devices were invented. Students, writers and business professionals abandoned the typewriter, and computers took up residence in millions of homes and desks worldwide.
But when it came to connectivity, there were still significant limits. Prior to the computing era of the 80s, the automated capturing, processing and distributing of data only happened on a proprietary computer-by-computer basis. Complex proprietary networks like SNA or X.25, which provided emulation or limited data transfer options in terms of speed and throughput, created “islands of networks.” As a result, information still needed to be manually moved from system-to-system via tape or disk. This phenomenon spurred the term “sneakernet” – a tongue-in-cheek admission that interconnection still amounted to someone wearing sneakers carrying data from one computer to another.
Businesses quickly realized that to compete in the evolving digital age, they needed a completely new breed of connectivity that would foster the faster, easier exchange of digital information. Proprietary networks, floppy disks and the sneakernet were happily left behind for the world of “open” networks.
In our next blog in the series, we’ll take a look at how these innovations provided giant leaps in connectivity that laid the foundation for today’s Internet.
Read the entire Interconnection: History in the Making series: