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When Did IT Suddenly Go Mainstream?

March 7, 2013

When did ITTheProject suddenly go mainstream? This morning listening to local radio over breakfast, I heard Ry Crozier, journalist with interviewed on ABC Illawarra about the NBN. Seventeen years ago, when I started out in the IT industry, it would have been a minor miracle for a specialist IT journalist like Ry to appear on mainstream broadcast media. Back in the mid-1990s IT (and IT media by default) was most definitely niche.

I remember being interviewed by Mia Freedman in a work context many years ago for Channel 9’s Today show – but the piece ended up being a lifestyle segment about working from home, rather than about IT. I tried to cover technology with reference to the relative merits of ADSL and ISDN, mobile data, security and IP telephony (I even had some gadget in my pocket from Telstra that I’d been asked to mention) – but that section of the interview never made it to air.

Back then, if someone asked what I did at a party, I used to say I worked in the computer industry, which I resorted to when people’s eyes would glaze over if I was any more specific than that. Now, everyone seems to know what cloud is, has an opinion about the NBN, and can talk knowledgeably about the relative merits of mobile data plans.

My kids can reliably tell me about Apple’s latest iPhone, iPad and iMac; or the differences between Windows 7 and Windows 8 as an operating system.

So when did IT go mainstream? Ironically, you could date it from March 2008, when ABC’s MediaWatch created the “Phantom of the Internet Trophy” in an episode featuring journalist and IT publisher David Richards. I was up in Queensland for the MediaConnect Kickstart IT media conference and during the day word spread that David would be appearing on that night’s MediaWatch episode. Just before it was due to go to air at 9:15pm, dinner tables emptied en masse as everyone headed off to find the nearest TV. An appearance on MediaWatch, while rarely a positive experience for a journalist, was at least validation and recognition for IT media (and by logical extension, the IT industry) from the mainstream press.

Now, you’ll see IT journalists popping up regularly in mainstream media. To pick a few, Seamus Byrne has a regular spot on Channel 7’s The Morning Show program, Angus Kidman appears on The Project on Channel 10, and ZDNet journalists, including Josh Taylor, are regularly interviewed for ABC  TV and Radio news.

So why has this happened? Well, IT has become much more pervasive in our everyday lives.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), “in 2008-09, nearly six million Australian households (72 per cent) had internet access, a sizeable increase from around one million (16%) in 1998.” (ABS Report, ONLINE @ HOME).  That number has continued to climb.

Approximately 62 per cent of Australians were using social media in 2012 (see the State of Australian Social Media 2012 infographic, compiled by Sensis, then developed and created in association with the Yellow Pages and AIMIA).

And, based on AIMIA research, 38 per cent of Australians own a tablet, up from 16 per cent in 2011, and 76 per cent have adopted smartphones. (8TH ANNUAL AUSTRALIAN MOBILE PHONE LIFESTYLE INDEX, the AIMIA Mobile Industry Group).

Finally (and this is my own thumb suck observation), use of some form of cloud service closely shadows household broadband access (at 73 per cent in 2010-11, according to ABS), smartphone adoption and social media use.

However, despite this rapid uptake of computing in Australia, there is still a huge amount of uncertainty in the community, largely because the complexity of the concepts and technology underpinning IT are still highly visible. You only need to look at the intensity of the NBN debate today, and the “facts” that both sides of the debate are able to push, largely unchallenged, into the media (see, as an example, “The real NBN casualty”, in Technology Spectator).

One Comment leave one →
  1. natecochrane permalink
    March 8, 2013 8:35 pm

    Must be an eastern states cringe – I used to get interviewed for TV and radio weekly in WA on IT issues, and that was in the mid-’90s.

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