Much of history never gets written down because it seems so overwhelmingly obvious at the time, that people fail to make note of it. The purpose of this node will be to write down some aspects of the internet that may be too obvious to have been noticed before, as well as put out some slightly less obvious ideas.
I have had the idea for this node for a while, but yesterday I came upon a trigger that made me realize how important it was. At Free Geek, we get many antiquated computer books, and yesterday I found the Que guide to computer hardware, 1994 edition. Although we know computers were much slower, and much more expensive a decade or so ago, I was surprised to see by how much. Wheras today, an expensive consumer grade computer will probably be not much over a thousand dollars, in 1994 (based on this book), the cheapest computers were around that price. That was for 386s. 486s were worth even more. Monitors were extra. Modems were mostly external, and you would be spending over one hundred dollars for one of those, too.
Between 1994 and 1999(or so), something happened that turned computers from an expensive item confined to businesses, universities and wealthy hobbyists into a staple of not only middle class life, but an omnipresent presence for most of the world's people. This was, of course, the internet. Of course, many are going to point out that "the internet" is not an application, it is a protocol, and a few bearded road apples are going to point out that they were using the internet in 1982, but for most people, the internet came to mean the world wide web, e-Mail, and a small number of other user friendly applications. This is the internet I am referring to. The technology behind not only the internet, but the graphical user interface that made it into a friendly experience, had been around for a while. Intel's introduction of the Pentium processor was already in development, as was Microsoft's development of Windows 95. It was access to the world wide web that made these so attractive that the middle class could start buying expensive computers, leading economies of scale into play, which quickly dropped the price of computers, further bringing in more people, and dropping the price until by the late 90's, the internet had spread everywhere. It was a very rapid growth, something we may have forgotten, even though we know it.
So, my first obvious idea is that the "internet" (or intarweb, if you prefer), and the GUI that it needed, was what made Intel be able to mass produce chips and create economies of scale that turned computers into a household item.
My second idea, somewhat less obvious, is that since the internet, no other "killer app" has occured in popular computing. There has been multimedia, broadband, file sharing, wireless, home entertainment and many other advancements to the world of popular computing, as well as a corresponding growth in processor speed, RAM, harddrive capacity, and many other such things. However, the growth since then seems to have been steady rather than exponential. And despite people's increased hardware, the computing experience is about the same as it was in the late 90's. When I was working technical support in 1999 and 2000, a Pentium or a Pentium-II computer was standard, with a clock speed from 166 to 300. The memory installed was usually around 32 or 64 megabytes. Most computer users today have five to ten times those numbers, but are still using the internet and their computers in the same way as they were in 1998. While the computing experience may be richer today than in 1998, it is not the order of magnitudes more complicated than 1998 was to 1990.
It could be possible, probably within a few years, of putting 64 or 128 bit super processors in every household object, and hooking them all up with a wireless network powered by psuedo-artificial intelligence. It would also perhaps be possible to develop quantum computing, or photonic processors, or nano-machinery. There are many possible technical advances that could be made, and that could sweep the world in a short time, that have not been made either because someone has not invented, or the public has not become enchanted with, a "killer app" for them, that would lead to the widespread usage of personal computers the way the internet did. When and where this will happen remains to be seen.