The Internet is altering leisure time and communications. Email and Instant Messaging (IM) are creating links with people whom we otherwise may not have contacted. A decade ago, letter-writing was seemingly the only cost-effective to bridge distances between friends and family. Then came email. For a generation, the first whiff of typing was to send emails. Writes Katie Hafner in the New York Times (December 6, 2001):
Email is the glue that keeps far-flung families together. Romantic relationships find both outlet and solace in it. In some ways, observed Nico Macdonald, a principal of Spy, a London-based research firm, e-mail has become the ultimate medium through which humans use computers – to organize discussion groups, deliver news stories, confirm purchases, signal updates to Web pages or play chess. Or as he put it in the language of the Internet age, “E-mail has become an entire personal information environment.”
Now, even email seems to be too old-fashioned as the short, frequent and Instant Messages have taken over. Buddy Lists and the Presence information encapsulated in the IM applications have transformed the way we communicate. The real-time nature of IM is evolving its own language. What email did to letter-writing perhaps IM will do to email in the coming years.
Along with email and IM, the other top activities of what the Internet is used for, according to a recent survey done by UCLA, are browsing, buying online, finding entertainment information and reading the news. According to the report, 72.3 percent of Americans use the Internet, up from 66.9 percent last year. Users spend an average of 9.8 hours online per week, up from 9.4 hours per week in 2000. Broadband users spend an average of 3.2 hours more online than dial-up users do.
In India, where one still has to pay local call charges of almost Rs 30 (USD 0.60) for every hour online, usage is likely to be at about half the US levels (about 15-20 hours a month) for the 6 million Internet users. Messaging is indeed the killer app, especially with family and friends abroad, since the cost of telecom is still quite expensive. Even though VoIP (Internet telephony) has still not been legalised (likely to happen in April 2002), for many families that has already become the bridge to daily conversations.
The Web may be a recent phenomenon (this year is the 10th anniversary of the publication of the first American page), but it has already made significant inroads into our lives in the past 5-6 years. Web Browsing ranks right up there with Channel Surfing in how we can absorb seemingly infinite amounts of random information! The key difference of course is that with the Web, one is much more in control of what one wants to see. This interactivity is what sets the Web apart and will make it an increasingly powerful element in our lives.
For many in the world’s emerging markets, the Web has indeed opened up new windows to the world, just as the radio and television did many years ago. In that sense, the Internet (along with education) are great equalisers. Even though the information, entertainment and communications value of the Internet is what one first sees, the potential to use it for commerce (especially by small and medium-sized businesses) is what is going to be the key driver in many of these markets.