Welcome to the E-Family

Ecommerce must respond to the needs of the new American family.

Dad picks up the television remote and turns on the set. He clicks to the local weather. While the weather for the next few days is posted, there’s a horizontal scroll at the bottom of the screen showing the closing prices on all his individual stocks. He clicks over to the sports scores. Each game has a button that allows him to block the score in case he wants to view the game without knowing the outcome. After paging through completed games, he clicks to the status of games in process, then on to the schedule for upcoming games. Each posted game offers the option to download the game to his set’s memory for future viewing. Instead he decides to watch a movie. He clicks over to the Blockbuster channel and chooses from a selection that includes virtually every movie ever made.

In the upstairs bedroom, his 11-year-old son has just logged onto Sega’s game channel. In spite of valiant efforts by Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, Sega still holds the top spot for 3D visuals. He doesn’t have to wear those uncomfortable cheap glasses to get the virtual reality effect either. In the next room, mom sits on the bed typing notes onto her laptop as she watches Alan Greenspan lecture on the mistakes the Federal Reserve made in the early years of the 00s, before they figured out that interest rate levels have no effect on the growth rate of an economy that’s racing with productivity gains. This is her last semester of coursework toward her Harvard MBA through the school’s e-correspondence program.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, their teenage daughter and her friends are practicing a line dance made popular by a group of young men with bright eyes, crooked smiles and cool haircuts. They click back over the program again and again, watching each step, then pausing the action so they can try it themselves. When they get it just right, they turn on the set’s camera and run through the steps so they can email it to their friend Jacy who’s stuck babysitting her little brothers.

This scene takes place in the mid 00s, in the 15th year of America’s longest economic expansion. Things change and they don’t change. Mom and Dad still worry about their daughter’s taste in boys and they wonder if the games their son plays on Sega are too violent. Mom struggles to get through her MBA while working part-time with a French investment bank and serving as the local PTA vice president. Dad’s wondering if it was a mistake choosing the work-at-home option with the medical consulting firm he joined two years ago. The choice allows the family to live in a small town on the shores of Lake Michigan, but sometimes he suspects the decision put him to the slow track with the company.

What does the future hold for the Internet and e-commerce? Mainstream Americans will likely integrate the Internet into most facets of their lives, from television to education, work and social interaction. Think of the telephone and television. During the 1900s, these communication devices become central to our lives. The dimensions of the Internet are far greater than the narrow scope of the telephone and television, so we can probably expect it to provide a far deeper integration into our business, family and social lives. It will likely change our lives in profound ways for the next few decades.

For one, it will change our need to live in large metropolitan areas. Our migration to cities was founded on the need to process goods that required massive labor and frequent face-to-face communication. Our primary output is now information, and communication, especially in business, is much more efficient through the Internet. We no longer need to work in close proximity, elbow-to-elbow after a crowded and inefficient commute.

The companies that can anticipate these changing needs will prosper through the coming massive social and business changes. Will Blockbuster alter its delivery system to become an Internet-based tool for people to rent movies? Or will a conglomerate like AOLTimeWarner take this space? Perhaps movie studios will rent directly to consumers through a common search engine. Certainly we won’t go to the video store if we can peruse every movie ever made on our television screen. The companies that anticipate changing needs and adapt quickly will prosper. Those that don’t will perish.

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