The biggest story of all – us

It’s been said that life is what happens while we’re distracted with our everyday concerns. It’s a fitting analogy for the IT industry, in that the biggest story is the one happening in the background amid all the little day-to-day issues.

Last month, California resident Jennifer Ringley of fame quietly announced that she was shutting down her pioneering voyeur Web site. No official reason was given, although her ISP is allegedly upset over the portrayal of nudity. Guess it just noticed. Either way, Web surfers are now learning to live without one of the ‘Net’s earliest celebrities. It strikes me, however, that it’s just as well Ringley chose now as the time to move on.

Much has changed in the seven years since went live. Where once the notion of watching a young woman live her ordinary life on camera was enough to attract millions of fascinated viewers, today it seems almost quaint. The notion of the Web as a new and exciting medium has long since faded, and today the online action is firmly entrenched in the commercial mainstream.

At my gym, signs are now posted banning cell phones equipped with digital cameras from being brought into locker rooms. The reasons for this are clear. But how effective a written policy will be in trying to ban ever-shrinking and ever-prevalent technology remains to be seen. Also, as you read this, your employer is now very likely answerable to new, national privacy laws of the sort that would have made little sense as late as a decade ago. And, of course, if we want to buy a new iPod or other popular MP3 player in coming weeks, it will cost more due to a levy recently slapped on all music-storing hard drives approved by the Copyright Board of Canada.

Privacy laws like PIPEDA and other privacy rules make sense, and are necessary. But more often than not, it’s not rules, regulations or restrictions that pave the road for technology-inspired change. Rather, it is us who change to meet the technology. That’s why the television industry no longer frets about VCRs, why it’s okay to make a cell phone call in a coffee shop, why e-mail and instant messaging technology have long since become everyday business tools.

So as we follow copyright battles in the media and drop a few more dollars for items at the electronics store, it’s best to remember that this phase is akin to the unruly teenager years, and it too will pass. In 10 years, as I download my music from one of many pay-for-download sites, I might stumble across an old online article from 2003 and try to remember what the fuss was about.

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