How important is the Internet to us, really? That’s what Boston Consulting Group asked in their recently released study (PDF), which weighed the Internet’s importance on everything from the global economy (which will account for 5.2% of GDP for G20 countries by 2016) to individual lives (polls found that 21% of Americans would give up sex for Internet access, but only 10% would give up their cars).
The results offer us an endless array of discussion points, and thanks to a collection of simple infographics, we can peruse the data quickly.
For one, despite the innovations from American companies like Microsoft, Google, and Apple, America isn’t the proportionate leader in Internet commerce. By 2016, we’re the 6th-placed country, and we fall below the average of developed markets. It sounds hard to believe until you examine the numbers. In the U.K., 12.4% of the entire GDP will be represented through online spending. In the U.S., it’ll be just 5.4%. We’re behind, and nothing is bucking the trend.
Things get really interesting though when you start asking people what they would give up to keep the Internet in their lives. 73% of Americans say they’d give up alcohol. 43% would give up exercise. And 21% would give up sex. (Is that high or low? Depends, I guess, on your own answer.) Just 10% would give up a car, which hints that most Americans would rather have a car than be celibate. America!
However, the more interesting point (to me) is that our perceived value of the Internet is highly inflated. Americans see the services worth about $3,000 a year. (As a telecommuter for half a decade, I’d go even higher with that figure.) But what’s the Internet really worth, in terms of its cost? $472/year. So we’re all basically getting a 650% return on investment.
That’s really what it means when something is a productive technology, rather than a consumer good. In a world where most of us expect everything to plummet in price, and many of us lament companies like Apple’s high margins (50-100%) as generating "overpriced" products, we’re completely out of sync with the value of digital services and online products. It’s like the dot-com boom still lives and breathes in all of us, and we still see the images and videos streaming to our computer screens as a bit too wonderful to be true.
Given that we live in a world full of skepticism, where most of us take the ingenuity around us for granted (in part by necessity, since we can’t spend all day oohing and ahhing at flat displays and planes floating in the sky), the fact that we overvalue the Internet—that we intrinsically hold it sacred—is actually a somewhat beautiful idea, no?