I wanna go on a little rant about “the internet” and how far our expectations have fallen.
When it first started to be a thing, the internet was a bunch of individuals connecting their machines through commonly shared protocols that made it possible for anyone to participate. We created a bunch of new ideas that allowed anyone anywhere to use their devices to broadcast messages, ideas, and content to almost anywhere. The word “internet” is a portmanteau of “interconnected” and “network” (or something similar with basically the same meaning).
These days though, when you say “the internet” to people, what do they think? Do they think about an empowering system where they are allowed to participate fully, to own their computation, to own the operation of their broadcasting? Do they think of direct person to person contact that lets them explore the vast array of human experience?
They think of platforms like Instagram, YouTube, TicTok or Facebook. They think of “playing with” content curation algorithms (in reality, not actually playing, but being played with). They think of arbitrary removal of content for violating terms of service, or the promotion of extremism because it is a useful tool for exploiting brain time. They believe “the internet” to be a collection of powerful systems owned by rich entitled bros who get to decide what is worthy of attention.
Personally, I’ve had enough. I’m ready to rethink what the the internet is, can, and should be. I’m not suggesting we go back in time. Instead, we can look back to the time when we started on the current path, and then imagine a different future that could have been. A future that maintains the best aspirations of what the internet was hoped to be while avoiding the pitfalls that we’ve discovered.*
Then we should work toward that future. And it will be work, and a lot of it will be thankless. Much of the internet was built out of pure passion with no obvious profit motive and without hope of getting rich. That is where real value is created, and it’s there that we can find a better connected world.
* I have some thoughts about what this world could look like (obviously), but that’s the topic of a different post.