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Always On

Dial Up

One of my morning rituals is to ‘dial up’.

As soon my ‘mac’ starts up in the morning, I head for my browser, ‘dial up’ my internet access, check my site statistics and get my morning mail delivered. After a short sojourn of between 10 and 30 minutes depending what’s in the mail, I ‘log off’.

I’m one of the vast majority who have ‘dial-up’ access to the Internet. This means whenever I want to access the Internet, I have to ‘dial up’ my Internet Service Provider (ISP).

For some, you may be wondering, ‘what else is there?’ and for others you might be thinking that I’m ‘living in the dark ages’.

Permanent Connections

The alternative to ‘dial up’ is a ‘permanent connection’ which means it is ‘always on’. Some experts are suggesting that when enough people have permanent connections, the Internet will change forever. More specifically, when enough people secure permanent connections, the Internet will be flooded with a range of services that will blow your mind.

Let’s explore this further by looking at some possible examples of where things might be going.


One of the great examples bandied about as a key pointer to where the Internet is going is encapsulated in your humble refrigerator. One day, your fridge will be permanently ‘online’ and when the food stocks run down or the milk needs replacing it will be able to do the ordering for you – and not a webpage in site! (excuse the pun).


One of the great advantages of email is that it is virtually instant. It’s like calling someone on the phone, email is that quick.

For someone like me who has ‘dial up’ access, you may be able to send your email in an instant but I only receive it when I log on during the day. This could be an hour after you send it or a day depending upon a variety of things. For most of my email this delay makes little or no difference. This reflects our current relationship to email.

Email Chat

In comparison, a ‘chat line’, given that both parties are online at the same time, is more like a dialogue. If everyone has permanent connections, the role of email will change from being a traditional one-way delivery of mail to being more like a conversation where the parties dance back and forth in dialogue.

If you think email speeded things up, once the majority of people enjoy ‘email chat’, ‘real time’ conversations will take on a new meaning. Whilst this may be similar to what’s already available on the telephone, there is another factor at work here.

Multiple Channels

Despite the availability of teleconferencing, the telephone is essentially a single channel system. In contrast the Internet is a multi-channel system. (You could say it comes with the digital format.) Having multiple ‘real time’ conversations will alter the dynamic of relationships.

A point to reinforce here, what we are talking about here is not new. Chat lines are already commonplace. Teleconferencing on phones is commonly available. Videoconferencing is even available in various ways.

The point here is that this technology will be readily available and being used by almost everyone as a normal and regular event. Currently these chatlines, and videoconferencing are the exception rather than the rule.

One way of looking at this is to look at the language that is used. For those of us with ‘dial up’ accounts we say ‘we are going onto the Net’. It becomes an event. For someone who has a permanent connection, ‘the Net is always there’. This is a subtly and powerfully different relationship.

'Always On' Mobile Phones

The spinoff here is also, that simply having an ‘always on’ connection on your computer will shift to your mobile phone. This may be the biggest shift of all for the Internet.

Currently the Internet is deskbound, or at least computer bound. No wonder it plays almost entirely in the realm of visual information – namely text and images. To be completely portable, as per your mobile phone, the Internet will shift from a primarily visual channel to an auditory channel. Whilst mobile phones are already gaining bigger displays, there is a limit to screen size to maintain the mobility of the phone. Essentially, a portable device will primarily be an auditory device (until we develop holographic screens or something similar).

This is a big shift and will shake the roots of the current Internet that is based upon pages.

'How did I ever get by without...?'

Technology has a habit of sneaking up on us because we fail to notice the changes in relationships that it provides. For example, have you ever stopped to consider: "How did we ever get by without the Internet? Mobile Phones? Television? Motor Cars?"

‘Always On’ may seem like a small shift, particularly since it is already available, and my I agree with the experts who say it will alter the future of the Internet.

PS: Most 'permanent connections' are many times quicker than a 'dial up' connection. In this article we haven't even considered the speed implications of 'always on'.


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