It seems nowadays we log in to maybe two or three URL’s each day. We might have some sites we visit but predominately we tend to congregate around social media, the life sucking polarisation machines which have replaced one of our greatest achievements.
I bought my first PC in the late 90’s from a friend. It was a desktop manufactured by Tiny. I don’t remember too much about it outside of that beyond the fact it had a whopping 500MB hard drive. That hearing aid beige box of wonders would change my life dramatically the minute I plugged a phone cable into its thrusting 33.3k modem.
After signing up with an ISP to whom I would pay a monthly bill plus call charges of 1.5p per minute off peak and 3p per minute peak I clicked the dial in button. This was exciting! After listening to some arcane noises I clicked on the icon for Netscape Navigator.
For the next several months I ran up a ludicrous phone bill because I was browsing the World Wide Web every evening. I didn’t choose two domains and stay there, I followed web rings, I used search engines such as Altavista and Excite as a leaping off point. The online world was a dizzying array of colourful text, spinning gifs, and visitor counters (broken). It was literally amazing.
Yes, you might find yourself on “Dave’s house of finger puppetry” before discovering a website dedicated to the different types of chipboard available to the world. You might even quickly sprint past “Harry’s happy world of holocaust” denial feeling like you needed a shower. It didn’t matter, if you didn’t like it you moved on to the next thing, and the next thing, and the thing after that.
Discovering chat rooms was another epiphany. Not only the beguiling idea that I could speak to people from anywhere in the world instantly gaining and endless supply of new perspectives but I also learned that trolling was funny. Whether you were the victim or the victimiser is was just nonsense, it didn’t matter, people moved on. There was a genuine feeling of discovery and freedom.
I created a Geocities site before too long, breaking my fragile brain when it came to simple HTML. My page was in the SoHo district, of course it was, I had arrived. I had property! It goes without saying I abandoned the page fairly soon after. I didn’t have much to say at that point, I was still on my digital gap year and determined to see what the cyber universe had to offer.
I ended up in some pretty odd places. I wound up being part of the team on Ogrish.com. The gore didn’t fascinate me too much, I’d studied pathology books in college so beyond a certain morbid interest they were what they were, but the ideology behind the site fascinated me. I became a co-founder of LiveLeak.com in the mid 2000’s. By then the net was hinting at problems to come but it was still incredibly exciting.
I remember crazy sites like ConsumptionJunction.com (how I wish I’d gotten to know the lunatics behind that one), StileProject, and so many more. I remember chat rooms morphing slowly from text to voice so you’d actually know whether Cindy F/24/FL was actually what she claimed and not some hairy truck driver from Endinburgh. Heady times!
Fast forward to now. We’ve fucked it all up. We’ve handed the Internet over in large part to Mark Zuckerberg, a man so lacking in charisma even plankton would make excuses to leave early from his presence. Or Jack, a slightly taller and far less interesting Tyrion Lannister. A man whose platform should be delightfully chaotic but is instead a bubble chamber of hate where Zoophiles and paedophiles congregate openly but you can be permanently banned for misgendering someone.
Our embracing of social media with its tools built simply to keep us consuming at all costs has damaged the fabric of our society both on and offline. We’re incapable of accepting other people might have different views to us and instead look for ways to silence and cancel them.
Websites are suffering too, advertisers pulling away from any content which isn’t completely vanilla. Annoyed people who would have been ignored by any sensible person in the real world could suddenly group together and remove funding from a site or individual because they’re “nasty” or more correctly “I don’t like them or agree with them so they should be destroyed”.
Websites are always going to evolve, to change, and to vanish. But now they’re being crushed. People would rather look at what you’re on about using social media. Maybe they’ll click a link but most often they won’t. They just sit, apathetic, greedy, lazy. And when I say “they” what I really mean is “we” of course.
Facebook hooked everyone into using their pages instead of having their own web property. Once the migration happened they turned the screws. Organic reach? Fuck you, pay me. Can’t build your own site now but you’d like to cover conspiracies or politics which don’t follow strict guidelines? Fuck you, pay me and then get banned.
It’s no better over on YouTube. Do you remember how amazing that platform was? You could see almost anything and it was wall to wall filled with indie content. They even said you could make money there ensuring people abandoned anywhere else. It wasn’t sustainable so once they cornered the market they moved the goal posts and moved them hard. Sure, build your audience but we won’t promote you or allow you to earn off it because the content isn’t suitable. Yes, we allow famous people to talk about the same things and let them monetise but you’re not famous. You’re nobody. Broadcast yourself died a long time ago, eh?
So here we are. The cyber world is a polarised mess. We congregate on massive corporate platforms and watch our freedom, our level playing field, our endless possibilites die in the name of corporate interests and political correctness. But that’s okay, we get thumbs up from our bubble buddies so it’s all good.
I miss the Internet, I really do. And before you say “ok boomer” remember, I Internet way better than you ever will. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go and check my notifications to see if people like me.