Spend a moment watching Downton Abbey and you'll see all your questions about progress and modern life in a new perspective. You'll see the difference when characters ask why anyone needs electric lighting in the daytime. Or when a chauffeur talks about not driving faster than 20 miles per hour. Or even when the dowager countess grapples with a swivel chair and suggests she needs her sea legs just to stay upright.
These observations seem ridiculous in hindsight. Where would be without electric lighting? Without faster cars? Without... well, okay, we could probably make do without swivel chairs...
But people in the future will likely think we're just as ridiculous, particularly when we question why anyone could possibly want or need gigabit-speed broadband.
I get this question often: "What can you even do with a gigabit?" The applications that take advantage of that level of bandwidth largely don't exist yet. And even if they did, many would only be useful if there was long-haul gigabit service, not just the local access being deployed today.
But asking what you can do with a gigabit is like someone a hundred years ago asking why you need a car if there are no good roads to drive on yet? Or why you need a home telephone if there's no one yet to call?
Many new inventions need critical mass before their impact can really be felt, and to reach critical mass, someone has to be an early adopter. Lots of someones have to be early adopters.
There are starting to be some specific answers to why we need gigabit throughput. A gigabit connection could be good for virtual reality language immersion, real-time scientific study of local environments from anywhere in the globe, and for the experience of a 360-degree musical concert broadcast into your living room.
But these examples of high-bandwidth applications barely scratch the surface of what having gigabit service could mean. I don't know any more than anyone else what a gigabit-connected world will look like, but that's hardly the point. Very few people in the 1980s could have pictured what e-commerce would look like, or how a store that got good at processing and shipping book orders over the Internet would one day change the lives of millions of people.
It's impossible to know how Internet speeds that are more than ten times today's average will change our future. But for a comparative clue, I only need that first example from Downton Abbey: Gigabit broadband will light up our lives like electricity did a century ago.
Or as another modern-day teller of historical tales, Lin Manuel Miranda, put it in his musical Hamilton, "It's Ben Franklin with a key and a kite. You see it, right?"
Gigabit broadband is this generation's key and a kite. And to doubt it would be as foolish as it was to question the need for electric lighting... even in the daytime.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading