The banal network

Travelling over the Christmas break, we had lunch one day in a cheap and cheerful eaterie in the midlands. It’s a good, non-nonsense, inexpensive carvery which, on the day we visited, was thronged with families having lunch. The first thing I noticed on our table was this card. To me, it signifies how far the Internet has come from being something weird and exotic to being positively mundane. When restaurant chains like this take it for granted that many of their (mainly working-class) clientele have a Facebook account, then you know that something’s happened.

I’m reminded of an observation that Andy Grove, then the CEO of Intel, made in 1999. “In five years’ time”, he said, “companies that aren’t Internet companies won’t be companies at all”. He was widely ridiculed for this prediction. Was he really suggesting that every fast-food joint and shoeshop would have to have online offerings? No: what he was trying to convey was the idea that, by 2004, the Internet would have become a utility, like electricity or the telephone or mains water. Most companies do not, for example, generate their own electricity. But if they’re not on the electricity grid (or the telephone network) then they’re at a severe disadvantage. So every company would, Grove thought, have to come to terms with the new reality of Internet-as-utility.

As it happens, he was a bit optimistic about the time it would take. But this Toby Carvery ad shows how perceptive he was.