First, my compliments. I can’t believe how much you’ve grown. We can all stay in touch with friends. We read news from around the world whenever we want. We check out foreign cities as if we were walking them. We learn about topics we didn’t know existed and can debate them with people we’ll never meet. All of it. Thank you. You’re making lives more efficient, giving people time back in their day (if they want it), and the world is a better place because of it.
You’ve done all this at such a young age and in a lot of ways, I’m sure that makes you proud, but at the same time, a little nervous. You’ve gotten by on other’s perception that you’re going to grow into something great and your way has been paid largely on that bet, not your merits and ability to support yourself. It’s okay; most kids grow up that way. But I know you’re starting to realize that mom and dad are a little tighter with allowances and asking about your homework a little more sternly, and because you’re mature beyond your years, you’re asking yourself, “What am I going to be when I grow up—how will I support myself?”
My dear Internet, it’s a question, in one way or another, that everyone’s asking themselves all the time, so don’t worry it’s perfectly natural and I do see that you are taking strides to figure it out. Like the advertisements you hang as we surf your pages. Good idea, but you have a long way to go to make that model work: we’re pretty focused and don’t like to be bothered. Or the notions of making us pay for premium content and services. Also a good idea, but such a plethora of free information, thought and products are created everyday, it’s harder and harder to pull out the credit card.
But you’re young and persistent, and have not stopped thinking there. Like accessing the data we’ve given you to get a better idea of what We look like, so you can better target your products. This is strategic, but We like our privacy—at least the perception of it, so tread carefully. Or the idea of tiering the speeds with which we access you and making us pay for faster service. Also a good idea. Your access is not an inherent right. We pay for how much electricity or water we use, we should pay for how much bandwidth we use.
But here is where I’ll caution you, Internet, because those last two ideas dip their fingers into people’s pots more uncomfortably than the first and I know you’ve got others in the wings. You may look at Oil, Banking, Insurance and your other vertical siblings and notice that when They really want something crucial done for their business, They don’t turn to the market and Their customers, They turn to the government. They put an arm around Congress, take them on a date and nine months later there is a beautiful piece of legislation. I see you’re already eyeing this a little here and there, like for instance Eric Schmidt, Google’s Chairman/CEO, being an “informal technology adviser” to The White House.
Be careful. Unlike your older siblings, we love you because there is a certain fun and freedom in your eyes. Don’t ruin that—stay young, stay open, stay fun. A few years ago Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg’s business card playfully said “CEO…bitch,” and now he’s doing public chat sessions with foreign dignitaries. Your vertical siblings are wrought with executives that hee-haw in alligator-skin cowboy boots, sport suites costing more than our cars or sit so stoically you’d think they couldn’t smile at their own child. Don’t let us see you follow a similar path; don’t let us see you filling public offices with your alumni; don’t let us see you laid out on long tables with name cards, answering uncomfortable questions from the same people you once took on a date. Please. Don’t. In a sense, I’m asking you to not grow up to Big Internet.
And that’s probably not possible. The world is a tough place—you are determined, and you will do what you can to support yourself, even if it doesn’t make us proud all the time. I guess that’s just the natural course.
Follow Caleb at www.twitter.com/calebgarling
Caleb Garling lives in San Francisco and wrote The St George’s Angling Club, available at