The Anorak

It'll never be the same again. We all lost something that day. Call it innocence, call it an ideal. It was the end of history and the beginning of the 21st Century. Something changed, not just in the world but in our view of it…
Well every other columnist, novelist and rentaquote has spent the past few weeks spouting millenialist rhetoric, so I thought it only right that I should join in.
It was not just the American dream that crashed last month – the net had its moment too.
When I say 'the net', I mean the set of cultural, economic and political forces, as well as the sets of cables and satellites.
The net's not had an easy year or so. Its bankers have sold it down the river and its bright young things have been shown to be less than bright. Whole industries that piggybacked on a boom are collapsing like shops around a coal pit. And then the biggest global event in recent memory showed that its incarnation as the new TV was a fallacy, and instead what the net emerges as is a simple, powerful communications medium.
There was much talk after 11 September of how newsites had coped with massive demand. The statistics showed that newsites leapt up the charts. BBC online climbed from eighteenth position to number eight, and CNN leapt from position 302 to enter the top 20 for the first time.
But BBC News Online said that people actually abandoned the web in their droves to switch on their TVs and radios. Tired of not only slow download times but also the private one-to-monitor interaction of the PC, they turned to the communal and instinctive act of gathering around the box.
Streamed news simply couldn't compete with the anchorman. Similarly, the simply graphic portable disposability of the newspaper caught hold of people's imaginations. Yes, the net coped with the demand. The network designed to let the military and politicians work after a nuclear strike held and let millions stop work and watch those politicians deal with something similar.
However, the net, as we've come to be sold it, did not hold. What emerged instead was a far more dynamic and truly new media. It was email, text messaging and blogs that worked in people's lives and are the new net.
People used robust and familiar email for information about relatives and friends, or to make contact. They used their cellphones – not just for those heart-wrenching final calls – but to coordinate and piece together their feelings and knowledge. And that successor to the newsgroup, the blog sites, gave space to real stories, feelings, anger and panic.
Blog sites – personal journals built around network links – displayed a raw and far from virtual grasp of the situation. Often unpalatable, sometimes replete with rumours, they enabled people to connect with the events and each other.
It is customary for me at this point to say: “And law firms could do far worse than follow…” But the shift that happened is so fundamental that there is no easy lesson.
We are seeing the birth of a new net, one that has its large-scale broadcast net that one day may make money, one that has its efficiency net that uses networks to make business happen quicker and easier. But it is the connected net that is emerging as the one that grabs and holds people. That is truly bomb proof. And that connected net is what all media and business will have to work with.