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The Best #SXSW Insight: “The Internet Is Over.”

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Writer Oliver Burkeman went to SXSW in search of the next big idea, and after three days he found it: the boundary between 'real life' and 'online' has disappeared.

In other words, "The Internet is over."

When I saw that Burkeman declared that the Internet is over, it didn't strike me as insightful. In fact, it struck me as obvious.

Yet the more I think about it, the more I like the subtleness to his assertion.

It's clear that the boundaries between real-life and online have fallen, and that this represents a massive cultural shift. But like many things, it didn't feel like one.

The change occurred slowly. 

Like you dear reader, I remember the joys (read: trials) and processes of dialing-up to the Internet, typing up the phone line, and disconnecting once I finished.

Now, everything I touch has the Internet. My Kindle, laptop, cell phone, and iPod Touch all are connected. I don't log on. I am always-on. There is no phone.

The only time we're disconnected is when our ISP has troubles. In that moment, for anyone whose work depends on using the Internet, the feeling of being unable to connect breeds frustration and the anxiety of needing to commute to a place where the Internet does work. Increasingly for the hyper-connected, losing one's Internet means being unable to work, listen to music, watch movies or TV, play games, keep up with friends, and many other things. But it's interesting how the idea of being unable to connect has evolved from a fact of life, i.e. "sometimes" the Internet doesn't work, to if the Internet doesn't work, what does one do with themselves beyond reading, sending text messages, and cleaning the house?

For me, I realized that boundaries between real life and online had fallen about two years ago. I had been invited to speak at Next Big Nashville. The moment that I arrived at the conference, I had a great insight. For the first time ever, I became an Editor at Hypebot. Now, I'd been writing for Hypebot for quite some time, but my identity in my physical reality never meshed with my online life.

When people greeted me, they said, "Hey, you're Kyle Bylin, I read you on Hypebot." I got to meet readers in real life that had only known me online.

In that moment, I watched my identity converge in a way that it hadn't previously.

Now, I know that's not quite what Burkeman means when he says the Internet is over, but I'm betting that many artists out there have had a feeling like that too.

When they finally met several of their closest fans or saw their affluence online lead to connections in their physical world. Many of you professionals have had moments like that too. Thus, I'm curious, at what time did you realize that the Internet is over? When did boundary between real life and online fade?

It's odd, we accept the end of the Internet as a fact of life, but it's not.

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  1. Didn’t anyone address the fact SXSW is over? Too big to do anything but drown in, too over-saturated to mean anything anymore.
    To answer your question, though, it’s just a matter of critical mass. Once usage got up past 50% of the US population that boundary was already getting erased.

  2. A big milestone happened in 1998. Ringtones started to be sold, establishing a mobile marketplace. Just the idea of selling something directly to the consumer wherever they were obviously had huge ramifications.

  3. Internet still works for me. Guess it’s not ended in the UK. I also have no issue with differentiating between real life and online. Damn I’m so unhip.

  4. About a year after I got on Facebook (around 06), I realized that people could know who you are because of your presence on there. The same way they would know of me because I hang out at their favorite bar or they saw me talking to their friend one time. But that idea was still kind of weird.
    Also at the Digital Music Forum a month ago, everyone in the room was tweeting at each other about what was going on, and so half the people I met there were in person, and the other half were virtual, even though we were in the same room.
    Sometime in between is where the boundary faded for me.

  5. It is amazing that when someone else spouts the nonsense you yourself believe you can readily perceive it as nonsense. – Philip K. Dick, VALIS (1981)

  6. It’s amazing how technology has changed with in years. Now all phones have internet. iPod’s and iPads or even the ZuneHD (Which has not died yet) I remember when the dial-up connection was the fastest we had. Now its all about wifi or hotspots. The world is in it’s technology era. We now have phone which can play Playstation games (Sony Ericssion) Its either about playing games, streaming videos or updating your Facebook/Twitter. I’m not all fore the new technology and staying connected. People say it’s impossible too disconnect. I think it’s pretty easy. Just hit shut down, or turn the phone off.

  7. The irony here is, of course, that once so many connected devices were all in the same place at the same time – the network in Austin went down or ran as slow as a slug. Most times my devices were rendered useless and apps that ran on the network primarily were bricked.

  8. Saying “the internet is over” is like saying “electricity is over”. Relying on something doesn’t make it obsolete or over. Check your choice of words please people.

  9. I somewhat challenge the title, “The Internet is Over” because of the ISP problem. Ask anyone at any SF conference and they will confirm. The lack of true internet in most communities, even at the highest speeds (stuttering video, data throttling, downtime) is a) holding back true ubiquitous cloud usage and b) when the majority embraces the cloud and has no physical backup and it goes down, there will be hell to play. I would love to see the music and tech communities joining together to buy our own internet, working on a post for it now. will post back here.
    The first time I noticed it was in Lexington, KY. I was at dinner with a producer friend and an agency called for a song license. They needed it in 2 hrs- the Master Wav, the sync agreement, all of it. We turned it around in less than 1 hr. Turns out that guy was in Nashville, I was in Lexington and the agency was in Boulder. Could have never been done otherwise.

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