A short recollection of the the internet from before we broke it
From the desk of email@example.com:
Many of us probably have a Hotmail email address even if we don’t use it for anything anymore. I still come across Hotmail addresses on the odd resume/business card once in awhile. It was a wonderful time in the mid-nineties when I first created my Hotmail address (or is it the wonderland of mid-teenage years that I’m thinking of here?) The internet was gaining in usability and popularity very quickly but it hadn’t become the commercial zoo of billboards it is today. There were no top-ten lists filling pages of search results and it was rare to see a picture of anything.
A beautiful thing was happening every day back then. Well-traveled, well-educated, deep thinkers with time on their hands were revealing their innermost considered opinions on every topic from history, philosophy, arcana, science, politics and much more. That was the front page on the search engine and it didn’t have any advertising.
Furthermore, the writings of people that had lived and gone before we arrived were rapidly becoming available, read and referenced from the desks of free-thinking people everywhere. We turned ourselves on with computers and went online, tuning in to a long-running undercurrent of human experience and cultural wisdom about the nature of ourselves and our world. Our new crop were positioned to absorb more enlightenment in their prime than any other group that had come before. It was fascinating.
As we left the path our parents had started us on and met in a place beyond the limitations of our corporeality, we let loose with the potential of a new type of intelligence – a new human experience. Some of these writings were totally crazy while others were wonderfully revealing. To get through this material required the skills to sort through B.S. very quickly, but also to tolerate unconventional beliefs, opinions and values readily. The writers weren’t always good communicators but they were passionate and open to sharing their insights with the whole world.
We had the ultimate in awkward teenage phases.
We all used made up names for ourselves and hid our real identities from each other. Nobody went with their real name and if they did, we assumed it was made up anyway. Gradually an addiction to multimedia and widespread theft of copies of digital goods came to dominate the place. We went online to download music and movies without paying for the privilege. In this post-scarcity world, the contributions to knowledge fell away and were replaced by the constant consumption of entertainments.
We had a deep shock as the creatives who earned a living expressing themselves through art learned to distrust the whole endeavour. Creators joined the cause of industry in force and free exchange of information became a source of frustration for our story-tellers, musicians and illustrators.
The spell was broken.
As new businesses swept in to control the flow of digital goods with great fanfare and accolades, they brought their highly effective marketing machines to work. We believed that the solution to the problem was creation of the online marketplace. In the span of a few years, facilitating the individual consumer was the raison d’être of the entire system. Our interdependence as a cultural whole, building upon our collective history to achieve something bigger than ourselves was shuffled off to the back pages.
The second shock, a quiet shock, is where we find ourselves today. Those contributors to the open, online book of human knowledge have gone away. The conversation has largely stopped, or, has gone back to its closeted previous form where it remains inaccessible to the isolated introverts that may care to join. The insights gained of a lifetime’s experience have gone silent and newcomers capable of connecting the threads to create the great tapestries are not working on the task. All the world suffers the loss of these voices. By and large, looking at photos of family and friends, caught up in the urgency of the latest hokum cure for cancer and funny one-liner on an old picture, few seem to notice that this other thing has gone away. Many more have no idea that it once existed.
The beautiful flower is in its winter.
I used the handle noize on forums and chat rooms. I had a little place on GeoCities called noize’s realm where I learned to write HTML and later published some programming work under the same name. There was no person in my offline space who could have a conversation with me about how I was spending my time and more specifically, what I was reading about or what I was working on. I chose to be noize because I was a British boy, quietly rioting online with tent pitched at a little oasis near a building made of pure light found through the wardrobe from my computer chair, sending a weak signal out among the stars.