Cyberspace is so 1980! This recent article in Gigaom by David Meyer got me thinking about the redundancy of the term. Meyer presents a compelling argument for why the term “Cyberspace” must die. He reminds us how cyberspace actually refers to a separate place, when that is not actually the truth. Maybe it was the truth back in the 1980s when it had not taken any definite form and was still more a concept than anything else. Not anymore though, with the global adoption of the Internet. And that is why it is not productive to keep using the term in any context that hints at it being a concept and not our lived reality.
The online and offline worlds are merging to a degree where they are almost indistinguishable, seamless extensions of each other. That is how we think about the concept as well when envisioning the future of commerce.
For the past few years now, we’ve been hearing about how retailers need to embrace an omnichannel approach. More importantly, businesses need to recognize that consumers are channel-agnostic. They don’t differentiate between the online and offline worlds. They are constantly connected. Consumers don’t think in terms of, “I think I’ll use this channel to shop today”. No, a consumer just picks up her smartphone and types in a search query or opens an app or visits her preferred brand or retailer’s website.
The Gigaom article emphasizes how the usage of the term cyberspace makes it sound like an uncharted territory rather than what it actually is. It is only a layer that enhances and augments the offline world. Our lives are no longer separated from our online existence. Thanks to increased and continuous connectivity, our digital activities seamlessly blend into the flow of our lives. Cyberspace is no longer science fiction. It actually lives in a physical infrastructure.
Businesses need to stop thinking of the online and offline worlds as separate entities. Meyer’s article presents the main challenge that this line of thinking presents. Thinking of the two as separate entities makes the people in formulate the rules in different ways as well, which is not an entirely productive exercise. As the article says, fraud and theft are a threat whether we are online or offline. Sure, the complexities of the online layer are many and varied, and it will take some time for us to figure it out, but we need to think more in that direction, because that’s where we are headed.
Technology and in particular connectivity is woven into the fabric of our everyday existence. Looking for products on our smartphones, finding directions to a place, being reminded to leave on time for an appointment by a digital assistant, are all a part of the natural flow of our lives now. The development and integration of wearable devices is going to drive this point further home as adoption and usage grows.
Brands and retailers really need to think about this concept more carefully. Forget omnichannel. We are actually moving to an infinite-channel world where commerce is pervasive. Imagine a time when a man is walking down the street and is passing by an interactive screen on a storefront. Near field technology and the Internet of Things prompt his smartphone to remind him that he is running out of eggs at home. He pauses, places an order for eggs on the interactive storefront and continues on his way. That’s the level of integration that we will reach with the power of machine learning, product intelligence, and the Internet of Things.
The archaic interpretation of cyberspace no longer holds true. Remember David Cronenberg’s Videodrome from 1983? Man and technology are definitely merging into one as the movie suggests, albeit thankfully not in the same self destructive and dark manner as envisioned by Cronenberg! But it’s happening.
We need to recognize, acknowledge and embrace this fact as we move into this fascinating new infinite-channel world, where connectivity through the Internet revolutionizes and redefines the way we live our life.