When I was 9 my family took a vacation to Colorado. I fell on Pike’s Peak and scraped my knee. After a few days in Vail, we spent the end of our trip exploring the state’s capital city. The Denver Mint ranked chiefly on our list of sights to see. I spent a good chunk of the visit in the bathroom dealing with stomach issues, but I remember my fascination with the idea of making money from scratch. Perhaps they had some to spare — after all, $5 was like $50 to a 3rd grader.
In the years since, I’ve learned about economics and inflation, I’ve held nearly a dozen jobs, and I understand the value of limited resources. Yes, in the dystopian post-apocalypse we’ll surely fight wars over clean water. But for now, in the civilized world, bandwidth reigns as the modern currency.
Facebook Messenger is launching a group calling feature you can use from your phone. This is just the latest (but perhaps most pervasive, given the user base) platform that offers an alternative to traditional phone calls. Between Skype, Facetime, Google Hangouts, and FB Messenger, who needs “minutes?” If you have wifi, service becomes superfluous. I remember using a pre-paid phone card to call my parents from Florida when I was 11. Now, the idea that you would have to pay to use the phone or ration your monthly allotment of talking time seems silly.
If you read news about technology companies, you’ll see the word “disrupt” all over the place: “Uber is disrupting the taxi industry.” Interestingly enough, the Internet itself is the great disruptor of all industries — television, phones, (the highly lucrative field of) libraries, and even cars. Longstanding business powers have been forced to adjust to massive changes in technology and capability.
As a consumer, this is pretty cool. Now we have $20 television service and $35,000 electric cars. I can host a live group video chat with my high school friends who are scattered across the country. It’s all thanks to an Internet connection, but do we need to be worried about an increased reliance on wifi?
If you search “bandwidth shortage” in Google, the first page of results features articles from every year dating back to 2008 about a potential squeeze on our data usage. The consensus seems to be that improvements in technology and the way we use it can continue to provide capacity. In my personal experience, I’ve noticed a steady improvement in the strength and availability of Internet connections across the board. However, in reading those articles, there’s also a sense that no one is really sure where our networks’ limits lie.
The government can print more money to inflate the currency. Money has no intrinsic value. Conversely, bandwidth is a resource. The quality and quantity of online video is increasing. More people are connecting to the Internet each day. We will continue to need more bandwidth in the future. Here’s hoping our $5 feels like 50.