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Don't Forget Winona

This article, written in 1995, is fast approaching the status of an historical document. But there's still a lot of truth in it. - DC

[Engine]In the nineteenth century, the coming of the railways opened up vast new territories for communication and commerce. Wherever the trains stopped, towns grew up, cities flourished. People, goods and ideas flowed along these tracks, changing entire continents forever.

It wasn't just the barons of industry who benefited; outside these new railway stations, enterprising people set up kiosks, stalls, shops and cafes - feeding off the activity created there.

In the twentieth century, the automobile changed the pattern of commerce again. Roads connected community with community, quickly developing an intricate network of connections. As automobiles and trucks increased their range, some of these local roads were combined into long-distance routes, beginning to compete with rail, bringing new influences to bear on trade and culture.

Once more, these benefited great corporations and lesser entrepreneurs alike. Along these new arteries, cafes, gas stations, motels sprouted - along with all sorts of weird and wonderful roadside attractions - all making a healthy living from the passing trade.

In the rock n' roll classic, Route 66, a sequence of towns and cities pick out the West-ward trail...
[T-Bird]"Flagstaff, Arizona; Don't forget Winona.
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.."

But then, in the seventies, the Interstate Freeways arrived. Built for long-distance travel, their use by local traffic was discouraged. Access ramps to the freeway were granted only to selected sites, leaving many of these communities in limbo.

When Interstate 40 replaced Route 66, Flagstaff got an access ramp, but Winona - just a few miles up the road - didn't. As a result, Flagstaff flourished and Winona withered. Today, it's little more than a ghost town.

And now, along comes the "Information Super-highway".

Newspapers, magazines, TV and cinema are full of references to the 'Net; they say it's going to change all our lives. They're probably right.

Of course, there has been a great deal of hype about the Internet; if it delivers a quarter of its promise, the Gutenberg press will be reduced to a doodle in the margin of history.

However, there are a few things of which we can be sure:-

  • The Internet isn't going to go away
  • The major corporations have been trucking along it for years
  • Some people/businesses will be left behind.
There are some fundamental differences between this communications revolution, and those which preceded it.

You can't set up a stall or kiosk outside an Internet "station". You have to be in there. Indeed, one of the special properties of electronic communications is that those who are not involved will not even know what's going on - there are no tracks, no roadway, no noise. Your competitors could be shifting tons of product under your nose, and you would never know.

But one of the other differences is to your advantage - you don't need to bribe a politician to get access; you can build it yourself. All you need is an Internet provider (and there is plenty of competition amongst these), some fairly basic hardware, and some software, which, chosen carefully, can make the whole process relatively painless.

So, what can you do with it? Well, that's largely up to you. The Internet is nothing more than the sum total of its connections, and the activity of those who use it. Many of the uses predicted now will probably look silly in a few years' time, while many of us will be asking "why didn't I think of that?" not long from now.

Millions of people and businesses are setting up their stalls along this new highway - big companies, small companies, one-person companies - limited only by their imagination and enterprise.

You will have to decide whether to be among them.

But, don't forget Winona.

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© 1995 David Craig Send me a message