We were thrilled on the day our office tapped into the internet.

It was around 1996. Of course, getting the new toy to actually work was a bit of a challenge back then. First there was the sign-up sheet. Yes, a team of editors shared the lone computer with World Wide Web access. Each person could use the cubicle with the magic machine for a half hour. Not a minute longer.

Then there was the matter of getting a typed-in URL to actually appear. It could be multi-minute wait, as various page elements slowly assembled. With a little luck, the desired destination wouldn’t time out during the ceremony, necessitating a do-over.

Looking back, what we were really learning was patience. But at the time, we felt newly empowered. It was as if our ability to grasp knowledge had changed. For indeed it had.

Still, by today’s standards, things were remarkably primitive. But it’s amazing how long people will embrace a mediocre-or-worse status quo without question. That is, until something better comes along.

Something similar may be getting started in this field. For in many ways, senior living is the best thing that ever happened to the aged — and their stressed out middle-aged children. Dignity-preserving care and lifestyle choices outside the home have never been so abundant, thanks to senior living.

For a relatively new invention, it has evolved, diversified and filled in niches at warp speed.

Yet for all the progress being made, this sector is much like our office’s internet capabilities circa 1996. To be sure, senior living offers an amazing improvement over its predecessors. Still, it is something that will be laughed at as appallingly basic and inadequate in a few short decades. Perhaps sooner.

I have no doubt that what’s ahead for this sector will put current realities to shame. Let’s just hope that future operators will be better able to master the staffing, payment and other big-ticket challenges that seem so universal today.

What I strongly suspect is that many of the current obstacles will be overcome. But new, unexpected problems also will arise.

Will this sector be able to meet new demands? Will completely different approaches to eldercare and housing nullify the reality that currently exists? Who knows?

What I do know is this: senior living will be different. Try not to be left behind.

John O’Connor is Editorial Director for McKnight’s