Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream? (Part 1)
As a long time internet addict, who has spent 20 years online, and 15 years working in the internet industry, I hate to say it, but it is true: I am bored of the Internet.
The thing is, I am quite certain I am not alone in this sentiment. Over the course of the 20 years I have been online, I have seen the Internet transform itself multiple times, so I am not saying it is over for the Internet, I am saying that in its current evolutionary state, the internet is boring as hell.
Not too very long ago, I used to visit up to a dozen portal sites like Digg, and Fark, and Reddit, and a bunch of others on my links page. It used to be that all of these sites would have a slew of cool and interesting things to see and read about, all of them different. Slowly over time, something changed. The same content started showing up on all of these filter sites more and more frequently. It soon got to the point that there really isn’t any need to go to all of these sites, so I don’t. Digg is completely useless since it was sold, Fark is only worth reading for the occasional funny headlines readers come up with, Reddit is a haven for flame wars. All you really need these days is one website to go to for the cool crap.
For me, I hate to admit it, but it has become Facebook. I just “like” my favorite sources of info, and links get sent to me. Too convenient. Sure not everything worth seeing ends up in my feed, and there is still junk to sort through, but it is as good a filter as I can find, so I use it.
The War for Eyeballs
Still I am not getting as much cool stuff as I used to get when I surfed for it. The pre-meme cool stuff I used to find is still out there, it is just getting harder to find in the noise of pop culture gossip, sponsored links, and pointless memes that make up the most visited websites today. Why? Because the pop culture gossip and the pointless memes sells the sponsored links.
The joke of making money online has been to follow this business model:
Make something cool
Give it away for free to get traffic
The funny thing is, Google, Twitter, You Tube, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkdin, and a few others have actually followed this model to make billions. After years of giving away their services for free, often at huge expenses, they managed to find ways to make money once they became famous.
The most important thing is to get that internet traffic, and it is much easier to get that traffic by catering to the masses rather than catering to special interests. This is why the Internet, which once upon a time was a haven for special interest groups, has become a haven for mass media instead.
I know what you are thinking, it is still a haven for special interest groups. I know because I am in a couple, but some how a large percentage of the discussion in these special interest groups end up being about mass media topics.
Think about it! Advertisers are finding it just as easy to get their message out online as on traditional media. They lose some control over the message, but still the message gets out. Money talks.
The Paradox of Choice
My thesis is this: The Internet, once dreamed as the ultimate rebellion against mass media and the control of knowledge, has somehow become mass media’s biggest promoter. I believe it is a consequence of the Paradox of Choice, which I first mentioned in my first Happiness post.
Pretty much any info we want can be found online. It gives us lots and lots of choices. Psychological studies conclude that the availability of choices do not make us happier, instead they lead to feeling of loneliness and depression. It is basic human nature to ignore the choices and find what we are comfortable with, or find a distraction from loneliness and depression we feel from all the choices we make online.
That explains all the cats. Kinda sad to have this vast source of info, that I hardly use. I should take classes on ItunesU, or download and read classic literature from the Google Library, or read up on random topics on Wikipedia or TED. Somehow cat videos keep getting in the way.
20 years ago, Bruce Springsteen sung about “57 Channels and Nothing On”. Then it became 570 satellite channels and nothing to tivo, then 5700 DVDs and nothing to rent. Today its 57,000,000 videos and nothing to stream.
This is the first in a series on this paradox. Next up, how the Internet is destroying politics and religion.