by Mike Morgan
In the October issue, I talked about what a useful tool the Internet can be. So, what can the Internet do for you? Well, for one you can buy just about anything that can be bought in a traditional "brick and mortar" store, and that includes parts and service for your rig.
I mentioned that I'm not a big fan of shopping. I don't care much for crowds (probably one of the reasons I drove a truck) and I really dislike shopping mall parking lots. On the Internet, I can take my time, at any hour of the day and night, and pretty much buy what I need. I've found that my orders for the most part come quickly, and on the rare occasion I've had to return something, it was easier than standing in the customer service line at a store.
With the cost of fuel these days, shopping on the Internet can result in a significant savings. Competition is keen on the Internet as well, and I usually can find an item at the quality I want, for less money than I can in a store.
CDs are a good example. I don't have to flip through endless racks of anti-theft cases that obscure part of the label, or have 16-year-old clerks looking at me like I'm some kind of dinosaur when I ask for John Stewart or ZZ Top because I can't find them in the sea of rap and hip hop. Going out to buy a CD anymore makes me feel really old. I feel much younger shopping the 'net.
I have shopped for new and old vehicles and re-financed my home online. This month I bought a car cover for a classic car I hope to restore someday. For the past two years, I have bought every single piece of new gear for my video production company via the Internet. I even monitor my checking account online. I have met many of my needs with nothing more than my computer and a credit card.
The security of your credit card information is a valid concern. If you are careful to deal with a known company that has a secure server (which they will advertise loudly on their site because they are aware of your fears and want you to shop in confidence) then you are (for the most part) running no more risk than you are each time you hand your card to a clerk. After all, you are giving a complete stranger your card, and they will have a complete record of your transaction.
Using a cell phone is more dangerous in reality than using an Internet site with a secure system, because every time you use your cell phone, everything there is to know about you is contained (encoded) in your cell transmission along with your call. That is how they know how to bill you and who and where you were when you made the call. Ever wonder why there is no cell phone directory? To build a device that will randomly intercept cell calls is fairly easy and inexpensive, and much easier and often more profitable than hacking code to breach Internet security systems. Thieves don't need your actual phone; all they need is to intercept your transmission. Then they can sell your identity as well as clone your phone. In addition, most all inter-bank banking transactions are now done via phone and other transmission lines, and they too are subject to breach. When you get right down to it, your sensitive information is only so safe in this modern hi-tech world.
Beyond personal needs, there are a wealth of sites that deal specifically with trucking. From load brokering to spec'ing and ordering a new rig via the Internet to obtaining financing for that new rig. You can get live weather updates, route mapping, and check on and even see live traffic conditions. The government has a huge amount of information on the Internet on just about every subject or need known to humankind and supplied or regulated. And the best part is, now when you need information from the government, you don't have to deal with a bureaucrat.
You can attend an accredited college on the Internet, as my wife is doing (she works full time), and earn a degree, or learn a foreign language. The Internet has so much to offer that you have to look at it as an electronic version or model of the world. One that exists in the form of ones and zeroes, or the binary code of moving electrons, hence the "virtual world."
There are three very important things to remember about the Internet. One, it is about knowledge, and knowledge is power. The ability for limitless numbers of people to gather together in a common and very public meeting place puts more knowledge and more power in the hands of more people than at any time in humankind's history. I will use a commercial example. Let's say you wanted to buy a particular product that you are unfamiliar with. Chances are, you can find a web site or web forum where people have compared their experiences with that particular product. You can very quickly come to a conclusion as to whether you wish to part with your hard-earned dollars by reading what others' experiences have been with that product, despite what the sales person or product literature has led you to believe. Manufacturers know this, and consequently the Internet has led them to produce better products and represent them more truthfully and accurately.
In the past, a bad product or scam could have lasted literally for generations before it disappeared. This is knowledge and power consumers have never had before, and that will only grow stronger as the public becomes more aware and makes use of it. Anyone can have a free web site from any number of web hosting companies. And even if you have to pay for one, the cost is as little as $15 a month. That is a very small price to pay for knowledge and truth.
Two, the Internet has profoundly changed the way the world does business, and will continue to do so. Dot com companies of one sort or another will continue to come and go as the industry shakes itself out, but the fact is that the Internet will make the industrial revolution look like a minor blip on the radar screen in the annals of commerce before it's said and done. In the end there will be lots of jobs and even whole service sectors erased, but these will be replaced by new jobs, and services we have yet to imagine. The 'net is comprehensively changing the cores of virtually every service and industry that existed prior to "the virtual world." Those that survive the shakeout will provide you with better, faster, cheaper and more comprehensive goods and services.
Three, the Internet is not going away. This means the sooner you embrace it and learn to use it to make money, save money, and save time, the better off you will be. The Internet can be a powerful tool for you right now.
The day is fast approaching when wireless satellite service will be available and affordable to everyone even in the jungles of the remote Amazon. When that day comes, you may not even need a laptop computer. A telephone with a screen will be all you need to get the information and services most pertinent to your needs as a driver or owner-operator. You will be able to book freight, find backhauls (I hate that word but that's another story) schedule service, find the best fuel prices and trip routing for your load, and send in the pages of that manuscript you've been writing (while on the road) to your publisher who will start not only the presses rolling for the hardcopy, but uplink the next chapter to the book's web site so that your readers can download it for a nominal fee instead of buying the hardcover. The fact is, with a laptop and a modem, you can do it all right now.
The point is? There is no way to predict at this point how changed by the Internet our world will be in the future. So far, the impact has already been huge. The time to make it a part of your life and work is now, not later when it is too late to catch up.