Web will be part of life for new generation
PEOPLE get embarrassed if they accidentally overdraw a cheque account, but they should feel just as sheepish about keeping too much money in a cheque account that pays little or no interest.
Even sillier is something people do all the time. They carry expensive credit card debt even though they have funds in a cheque account.
These kinds of mistakes will become much less common once people begin living what I call a "Web lifestyle". Shuffling resources between accounts is one example of a task that is bothersome today but that the Internet's World Wide Web will make easy tomorrow.
Today it takes patience to find information on financial, travel, health, entertainment and other opportunities.
It takes time and trouble to act on the information you find. Having grown up in a world of paper and fleeting television images, we take these information inefficiencies for granted. We don't complain because we haven't experienced dramatically better alternatives.
But the web will offer far better alternatives, and as we begin to experience them, a web lifestyle will take hold.
Living a web lifestyle will mean you rely heavily on the interactive network to gather and use information. You'll take the network completely for granted, turning to it instinctively and without a second thought. You'll check it to see what's happening, what's cool, what people are talking about and what they're thinking. You'll check it before making any major purchase and many minor ones too.
Use of the web is already rising spectacularly. Two years ago, basically no one got "news" from the web. Now, even with photos from the Mars Pathfinder mission appearing in newspapers and on television, millions of people used the World Wide Web to browse the images themselves (at www.jpl.nasa.gov/marsnews/img/).
Despite the web's surging usage, nobody really lives a web lifestyle yet - and won't, fully, until computers turn on instantly, network connections work faster, software is easier and people have lost their apprehension about computers and Internet security. But these developments will all happen reasonably soon.
While I don't live a web lifestyle quite yet, like many people I use the web several times a day.
I check it for weather, traffic conditions and sports scores. Even if I go to a sports event, I check a couple of web sites afterwards to read the analysis. I use the web to watch investments and to buy books and gifts. Soon I'll use it to pay bills.
But the network has not yet insinuated its way into every aspect of my life, and I don't take it for granted yet.
Probably the people who come closest to living a web lifestyle are certain college students. If somebody asks where to find Greek food, these kids check a web site. If you were to quiz them about why they use the web instead of the Yellow Pages, they might puzzle over the question. It would be like asking them why they use a television or the telephone.
As students move into the workforce and the ease-of-use and manageability of computers improve, the web will become thoroughly mainstream.
The convergence of televisions and personal computers will accelerate the trend.
I think it's safe to say that within 10 years the majority of all adults will be using electronic mail and living a form of web lifestyle. They'll be using the Internet to file their taxes and communicate with their doctors, at least some of the time.
By then, and possibly much earlier, many people will manage their finances via the web. Each bank will put up web pages that present its products in an easy-to-use fashion, making it simple for customers to manage money quite well electronically.
Some banks will offer to manage your assets and provide you with credit. If your checking account balance gets too high, the bank will offer to move funds into appropriate investments that have higher yields.
Banks will advise you to pay down credit-card balances or other loans - and let you do it with a click. They'll know that if they don't give you this kind of advice and convenience, you'll likely take your business elsewhere. Banks that really embrace the web will go still further, providing products tailored to you.
The Internet is a tool of communication above all else, a place for people as well as for rich information. The web lifestyle will meet human needs or it won't catch on. It will meet these needs efficiently, yet pleasantly, or its promises will simply bounce like so many rubber cheques.