Citizen Wausau

A Site About Life in Wausau, Wisconsin

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Internet, It is All About You

by on October 1st, 2007

Do we need to have another discussion? Of course we do.

At the beginning of the year, I started a blog. It seemed like the right thing to do after being named Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year”. Of course, you shared the honor because the cover was simply a mirror and the honoree was simply “You” – so it’s really not just all about me.

It’s pretty obvious that the Internet has changed everybody’s life and it has certainly changed mine. A couple of decades back or more, I remember Jeff Busha telling me about this new media and how my company should have a site on “the worldwide web”. Two local geeks had recently put together a business called Datawave and so everything was in place to get this done.

At first, I couldn’t figure out why we should even do it. We were a small utility with geographically separated, specifically defined service areas in central and eastern Wisconsin. Our stock was closely held. What the heck did I care if someone in Bangladesh could look up our home page? Pick up the stupid phone if you want something, for crying out loud! I had enough hassles dealing with people that it was my business to actually deal with, so why open up the conversation to anyone with a computer, a phone line, an ISP and some time on his or her hands?

Having said all of that, it was obvious that he was right about this stuff and so we developed the site.

A few years later, we met with Bob Weirauch, who had started a company called Wausau Financial Systems. He had partnered with a company in the Twin Cities to develop a product allowing electronic billing and payment so business could be transacted in a virtual environment. By sending out bills electronically and having customers initiate funds transfers with their banks to pay them, there would be significant cost savings on postage and paper.

In retrospect, it was a crude system, but when we forged ahead and installed the system, we became one of the first real, live applications for e-billing and payment. I quickly found myself on the national lecture circuit doing dog and pony shows with the representative from the software company. I flew around the country enough in the 1990s to become an elite level frequent flier on someone else’s money, (which is really nice work, if you can get it.) At the conference the geeks and the suits got together in search of the Holy Grail of the Killer App. At one summer conference, a panel member from an emerging dotcom company reported that they had a fabulous second quarter. They had gone to the market with an IPO and taken in $300 million for the stock of their company, which had absolutely zero revenues. I returned home and moved all of my 401(k) money out of the stock fund and into a conservative, guaranteed fixed return fund. Three months later, the market tanked.

Of course, technology marches on. Web based billing and payment has taken hold to the point where I don’t just pay things that way, but I accept credit card payments myself. I don’t use a travel agent anymore because the systems at my disposal to book airline tickets, hotel rooms and rental cars from my home are more sophisticated than what my agent had available a dozen years ago. E-mail is more important than the telephone and it’s a 24/7 world for research, transactions and interactions of just about any kind.

Something else has changed, too. The early days of the Internet were content-based and mostly static. It was about finding information. It still is, but today, the net is interactive and it is people-based. It’s all about you (and me.) People are having discussions. They’re meeting up. The social networking site “My Space” now gets more daily traffic than Google. Most of this is very good, but like any powerful force, it can be used for things like helping Senator Larry Craig to locate an infamous men’s room in the Minneapolis airport, too. Terrorists post executions and messages of hate.

But let’s accentuate the positive here, because there is plenty. There is the opportunity and the need to improve our public dialogue and broaden the participation in the many issues we face at the local, state, national and global level. You don’t have to go to a boring meeting or listen to long-winded speeches. We have the means right here to do some of that and we have Time’s Person of the Year to help us. You can do it in your bunny slippers and nobody will know. Join in the dialogue. It’s all about you.

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