I’m of an age that I can remember, when I was in high school, going to our main library downtown to look for books. The first thing I did when I walked in the door was to go the card catalog. This was a huge bank of little drawers filled with three by five inch index cards. Each card had the identifying information of each book in the library’s collection. This included the Dewey Decimal code which directed me to where to find the book on the shelves.
But once I graduated from high school and left for college, I never really had the need to go back. Then, once I graduated from college and began working, I one day needed to look for a book. So I walked over to the library, headed for the card catalog, and opened the appropriate drawer to look for the card that would tell me where to look for the book I needed. But to my surprise, the drawer was empty. It seems the library had switched over to this new fangled electronic card catalog system. Now, you used a terminal to type in your search terms.
I admit, once I learned the system syntax used to do a search, this was easier than going through stacks of index cards. But this was before the Internet had become ubiquitous so the only way, other than through a dial-up BBS gateway, to access the system was to come down to the library.
Of course, now the Internet provides direct access. In fact, with the resources that are now on line, many times you don’t even need to go to the library to get the information you need.
In line with my experience, this guy created a list of the top five industries disrupted by the Internet. He includes map makers, travel agents, yellow pages, CD stores, and libraries. To that I would add “media” companies such as TV, radio, and newspapers. Feel free to add your own list.
It seems to me that one of the common threads of the list is one of closed or even monopoly cultures. By that I mean there were middle men who you had to go through to get to the service you wanted. These middle men controlled access. Supposedly, the services provided by the middle men were for your own good because you were not learned enough or we didn’t have the time to directly access what you wanted. But, we seem to be doing just fine without these services. We are the best judges of what we want, the way we want it, and now have the opportunity to get it.
The coming of the Internet removed the barriers allowing the customer direct access to what he or she wanted. Although there was a certain amount of learning how to use the services, we learned. And by learning, we were able to serve our needs better than a third party.
This does not mean there isn’t a market for middle men. Sometimes we don’t have the time to do the research or don’t want to be bothered. But it does mean the market is now open and we can choose what works best for us.
So, before we mourn the loss, or at least reduction, of these industries, remember what replaced it is, for the most part, better.