I left Syria in 2003, I was 15 at the time. At that time, the best internet connection you could get was ADSL and it was about 1.5-2mbps in the best of times. For a techie like me, it was a living hell. I remember the first time I came to the US and saw broadband. I would look away for a moment, then look back and wait not realizing that the page has already loaded. Anyway, I came back in 2005 and people everywhere suddenly had 3G dongles attached to their laptops and they were surfing the web at speeds that match the LTE speeds that we get on our iPhone 5s today.
This was the first time I saw the Chasm perform a proverbial reach-around. In this case, the laggers – Syria – had eclipsed the innovators – The US – in mobile internet connectivity. Nobody needed to ruin all the sidewalks in our ancient country to wire up cables, we got to skip that whole stage of internet development and jump straight to 3G. Add on top of it government support and a lot of foreign investment, and you got yourself a top-of-the-line cell network with cell towers throughout the cities. I’m seeing a “Chasmic reach-around” again these days, only this time, I’m the innovator who’s getting blind-sided by, wait for it, my parents.
In my cocoon of Silicon Valley, people are angry about Apple Maps and are using Google Maps instead. They use Skype to video-chat, Messages.app (or, gasp, SMS) to message, and they use Facebook/Twitter/Instagram to socialize. I arrive at DTW and my Dad picks me up from the airport. I get in the car and the first thing I notice is the cartoony arrow of Waze guiding him through the highways of Southeast Michigan. We get home, my sister shows me a cute photo of my nephew she just got on her phone. She dismisses the photo and I see she’s having a 15-person group conversation with all my cousins around the world on WhatsApp. My Mom gets a phone call, and the distinctive tone of Viber starts up. I was looking around, dumb-founded.
Two, three, years ago, my Dad’s technical expertise did not extend past his email client, his fax app (I know..), and Solitaire. Today’s he’s showing me how he uses these apps to communicate with our extended family throughout the world. The same story applies to all my uncles, aunts, cousins, etc.
None of them are using Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SMS, or any of the other tools that we’ve built-up and gotten accustomed to over the past 5-6 years. We, the young generation, are Broadband in the US, and the older generation is 3G in Syria.
The obvious questions to ask are: Is this a global trend? What’s the data telling us? What does this mean for established tech companies? I don’t have answers for those yet, unfortunately. However, we are talking about Internet companies competing with other Internet companies here, and being nimble as an internet company is a lot easier than a broadband/hardware company.
The times, they are a’changing.