Alarming Changes in Online Habits- A Look Forward and Back

Alarming Changes in Online Habits- A Look Forward and Back

16 May, 2016

The brave new world of Internet communications and e-commerce is entering its 20s. Many industries have been shaken up in the last two decades; some are a lot different today, and others not so much. I worked for an association of insurance agents and brokers in San Francisco at a time when e-commerce was exploding. You may remember Webvan and Pets.com. The insurance industry was buzzing with articles about the impending demise of the independent insurance agent.  We’re still reading similar articles today.

Another industry I have experience with is the resale “antiques” industry. I was in a shop south of Pittsburgh this past weekend and heard a shop worker comment that the internet has opened up the market for curious objects to the world. Whatever it is, there is someone somewhere who wants it.

Possibly, if it is unique or rare. For many items we thought were rare, the site of multiples suddenly available at the same time made us wonder if we wanted them at all.

The world of antiques is completely different today than it was in 1995. A lot of that is attributed to e-commerce.

So where are we going from here?

Two articles caught my attention recently. The first from Forbes indicates that millennials, in particular, are discovering and buying art online. In fact, more discover art online than they do from galleries or museums. This is fascinating, and I am sure very frightening to many gallery owners and museums. Will museums lose their relevance? (I should caution that I believe many museums are seeing record attendance).  This may mean we are also losing the curatorial gateway we lost with antiques. Fully democratized, curators, as was the case with antique dealers, are no longer there to suggest and recommend.

This may cause many to latch onto the idea that art is an investment, and mistakenly assume that all art increases in value. Most art does not. In the long run, many could be burned. Boomer collectors planned on selling in retirement, but many antiques have lost value in the last 20 years.

The second article is cause for pause. According to the Washington Post, a staggering number of Americans have stopped using the Internet the way they used to. The article doesn’t break it down by age group. Thus, I don’t know if this is happening particularly with the younger generations.

Of course, there are more questions than answers. We have seen some movement away from e-things. A move away from e-readers and back to paper books is an example. In the antique industry, online auctions have thrived. However, there is an experience component to the art industry. Galleries and museums provide an experience. If it went completely online, that component would be missing and the market could suffer. Concerns about privacy could eventually come into play here as well. Or new technologies could ease those concerns.

We should remember there is an innate characteristic of trends. They wouldn’t be called “trends” if they didn’t eventually change direction.