Celebrating 30 years of World Wide Web

History of the Digital Revolution

The Industrial Revolution of the 19th century led to enormous increases in population, expansion of cities, and a boom in technology. Tremendous wealth was created by some; however, remarkable hardship was felt by others as mechanization eliminated their jobs. The real winners were the entrepreneurs who capitalized on the emerging technologies to create products, solutions, and services that did not exist before. With technological advancement, productivity increased, leading to decreased reliance on expensive human labor. Then came the Jet Age, the Atomic Age, and the Space Age. All of these were part of the Second Industrial Revolution, and each created tremendous wealth for a privileged few. For millions of others, it meant new competition and, eventually, obsoletion.

In the 1980s, a shift began from traditional industry to an economy based on the manipulation and exchange of data and information. Whereas the Industrial Revolution created tremendous wealth by allowing the mass production of goods, the Digital Revolution, referred to as the “Third Industrial Revolution” by some, has created an even greater opportunity to generate wealth.

Here are a few examples of how far we have come over the past 20-30 years:

• Vinyl records gave way to CDs, then MP3s, and now to streaming audio.

• The VHS tape gave way to the DVD and Blu-ray, and now to streaming video.

• Payphones gave way to cell phones (Motorola created the first mobile phone in 1983).

• Dial up Internet gave way to high-speed digital cable.

• The typewriter gave way to the computer.

• Mail evolved to the facsimile, then to email.

• Film photography transitioned to digital photography.

• In 1993, the World Wide Web was released to the public, and by 1996, the Internet was part of the mainstream consciousness. Many businesses listed websites in their ads.

• By 1999, almost every country in the world had an Internet connection, and more than half of Americans used the Internet on a regular basis.

After revolutionizing society in the developed world in the 1990s, the digital revolution spread to the developing world in the 2000s

YearCell Phone SubscribersInternet Users
199012.4 million2.8 million
20001.1 billion631 million
20104 billion1.8 billion

Hence, industry is becoming more information-intensive and less labor-and capital-intensive. This means that more and more traditional barriers to success in business are being removed.

According to the World Economic Forum, we are witnessing:

The Fourth Industrial Revolution emerge in a series of waves: the digital consumer, who enjoys more interactive and personalized experiences thanks to SMAC (social, mobile, analytics and cloud) technologies; the digital enterprise, which leverages SMAC technologies to optimize the cost of corporate functions and to transform enterprise collaboration for greater productivity; and the emerging digital operations wave, where  companies are truly revolutionizing business with the use of artificial intelligence, robotics, cognitive computing and the Industrial Internet of Things.


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