Whatever Happened To The Internet Dream?
Part 1: Bored of the Internet
Part 2: The Death of Politics and Religion
Part 3: The Decline of Movies and TV
Part 4: Trapped in an Andrew Niccol Film
Part 5: The Tech Apocalypses
Part 6: Internet Memes are Destroying Civilization
Part 7: The Dream Is Dead!
I’ve been working on various different aspects of the Internet for 20 years now. I have worked on computers, web servers, domain name servers, email servers, search engines, cloud servers, ISPs, home routers, IP phones, and cell phones. The ever changing nature of the internet has led to a few layoffs and constantly shifting roles.
This year the legitimate servicing company I worked for started reducing our hours, and then introduced a new “sales” component. The legitimate company turned into a side hustle company, and I got out.
So I got a new job for the local division of a “silicon valley start up”. All the horror stories I have heard about working for companies like this were true. It was a high stress environment that required significant training, and they were paying about a third of the wages we should be getting for the kind of work they wanted us to do. Silicon Valley culture is toxic, misogynistic, and it was clear the owners were just trying to build the company so they could sell it. In other words, they didn’t care. I got out again.
So for the first time in two decades, I work for a company that has nothing to do with the internet. It’s actually nice!
But it got me thinking. The internet was supposed to change the world for the better, but the golden age of the internet is pretty much over. Every corner of the internet has been taken over by governments, megacorporations, and side hustles. Is there any good left on the internet?
I’ve been thinking about the “state of the internet” recently, especially in regards to events globally and personally over the last few years. Some conclusions:
1. The “wild west” era of the internet is pretty much dead. Corporations have taken over the majority of it. All the cool stuff is now owned by established corporations.
I recently needed to change my DNS settings, as my current settings weren’t cutting it. I decided to go back to Open DNS, the only truly independent DNS servers on the internet — until they sold out to Cisco Systems.
2. The “Silicon Valley Start-up” is dead. Funding resources that used to be available to entrepreneurs with good ideas and a business model have dried up. There won’t be any more new internet billionaires anytime soon.
3. There is still money to be made in the “gig economy” (Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, You Tube, Patreon, Gofundme, etc.) but it is harder and carries higher risk than it used to. Basically, if you are not already making good “gig economy” money, you probably never will until worker protections and benefits are common place for contract workers.
4. The “free” areas of the internet are shrinking and getting harder to access. Worse the advertising models that kept those areas free are not paying enough to keep them free. More and more websites with actual good content are putting up pay walls.
Paywalls are the bane of many popular websites like Reddit which relies on commenting and sharing news and content from other sites. Paywalls are blocking Reddit users from seeing the content they need to comment on, resulting in fewer meaningful posts.
When you rely on material from other sources, and those sources block you, you die like Fry’s Electronics.
5. Social media is in sharp decline across the board as these sites grow more toxic and advertiser dominated. Celebrities have learned to make money shilling their fame, and that is what dominates twitter and Instagram these days.
6. Toxicity in social media has leaked into multiplayer gaming where MMORPGs, Open PvP warfare games, and 3D Virtual Worlds that depend on social interaction for content and player retention are in sharp decline.
7. It almost doesn’t matter if “net neutrality” becomes the law again or not. It does not seem to serve a purpose anymore. It was supposed to create a level playing field of customer access that both big companies and small companies can access, but too many other road blocks have been raised that the ones “net neutrality” was supposed to undo don’t really matter.
And yet there may be hope…
While digging through my archived posts I found one written in 2010 called “What tech will be gone by the next decade?” and made some predictions. I won’t bore you with a score card ( I was right about DVD’s, Satellite TV, and incadescent bulbs, but those were easy calls), but what interested me more were the predictions I got wrong.
The e-book revolution was supposed to change reading the same way that ipod changed listening to music. It was supposed to be the death knell of the bookstore and the library. And yet it didn’t. E-books account for only 20% of book sales. That is where it has been for the last few years and holding steady. Bookstores have turned a corner and may actually be making a comeback. Libraries are growing in popularity as well supplanting shopping malls as the cool place to hang out.
Theaters are still surprisingly popular. Adding reclining seating, reserved seats, and alcoholic beverages has boosted the movie theater experience enough to keep people going.
To me, this all feels like a societal counter revolution. The internet has caused so much change to society that we are collectively trying to rescue some elements of pre-internet society from the damaging effects of the internet.
This is all good.
The best and worst elements of the internet
If you ask me what the greatest thing about the internet is, I’d tell you it is how the internet brings together like minded individuals. I’m an aromantic. I didn’t know this until I learned what an aromantic was. Only 1% of the population is aromantic. I’m also a nerd with an INTP personality. Supposedly only 3% of the population is INTP. I make indie visual novels using Poser. The number of others that do is really small. I have found supportive communities on each aspect of my life. Learning I’m not alone in my weird hobbies and personality traits has brought a lot of joy to my life. I’m pretty sure this has helped millions, maybe even billions of others as well.
If you ask me what is the worst thing about the internet is, I’d tell you it is how the internet brings together like minded individuals. The sheer toxicity of society today both on and off the internet is largely due to toxic people egging each other on. The “Boaty McBoatface” mentality of the internet is responsible for the rise of racism, sexism, nationalism, fascism, and religious demagoguery throughout the world that is threatening the survival of the entire planet. Conspiracy theorist run rampant spreading lies and finding people that believe them and creating social movements based on lies. Governments, political parties, and corporations are using social engineering techniques to control the uninformed masses. Shutting down social media to stop these trends would do the world a lot of good.
What do we do when the best and worst elements of the internet are the same damn thing?
Another brick in the wall
The main lesson to be found in the movie Joker is this: Society is to blame for the problems of society.
Yeah, I thought it was a pretty lame theme as well.
My point is, the Internet is just another social institution that got really popular and then disappointed us, and now it is losing its influence. In the past century, motion pictures, then radio, then TV, then video game consoles, then the Internet all dominated the public consciousness as we distracted ourselves from existence.
Is it losing it’s ability to influence us? Yes! Will it disappear? Only the same way motion pictures, radio, TV, and video game consoles have disappeared (they haven’t).
The average internet user probably cycles between only 4 or 5 web sites daily. There are probably a dozen that they visit occasionally, and maybe 50 that they have bookmarked to check in on from time to time when they are bored. The other billion websites they never visit. These numbers are probably mirrored with internet apps.
The internet is meaning less and less to us. It seems we have all moved on to the next distraction: Streaming services.
Coming soon! My new blog series: Whatever Happened To The Streaming Service Dream?