The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Thursday, January 01, 2004

I've noted before how Web-based phenomena like blogging are often overblown by their adherents, who imagine them to be broader-based than they really are. It's no surprise, then, that the latest report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reveals that while Internet access is making gains throughout U.S. households, it's still far from universal.

Steve Klein at Poynter adds some good, brief observations on this:

According to a story about the report in The New York Times, 66 million Americans now log onto the Internet daily, compared to 52 million almost four years ago.

That hardly makes the Internet mainstream -- access still varies from community to community and according to socio-economic differences, the so-called digital divide. Television, which boasts a 98 percent penetration rate, is mainstream, and Pew projects that a mainstream Internet is still a decade distant.

Second place ain't bad, of course. But it's still second place, by a long shot, in a country with a total population of some 292 million (that translates to regular Internet access for between 20 and 25 percent of all Americans).

Assuming the Web continues to grow and become, in fact, mainstream by the next decade, will it become the entertainment/information medium everyone expects? From the beginnings of the consumer Internet, we've been teased with the promise of reaching millions of people across the globe via email, instant messaging and personal websites. The reality has been less than earth-shaking, perhaps because the Internet has had a relatively niche audience (especially worldwide). If we get to the point where it has a television-like 98 percent penetration rate in the U.S., will we finally see the rise of true "Web stars" on written websites, streaming audio/video and other media? Will these content producers be the watercooler fodder of the future?

In light of the present news, I was trying to think of a play on the term "World Wide Web", along the lines of it's not being the world, not being that wide, and not being a web--an homage to Voltaire's succinct quote on the contradictory nature of the Holy Roman Empire ("The Holy Roman Empire is neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire".) But I think it's a little strained...