The internet has failed. Hasn’t it?
“A horse! A horse! My kingdom for a horse!” Spoken by King Richard III in the play of the same name by William Shakespeare
In today’s world, he would have said: “5G! 5G! My investment portfolio for 5G!”
What Richard was asking for was not a horse so much, but for information. An Information Superhighway that would save his life and his kingdom. Information that could best be transmitted by the Ferrari of the time with a one-horsepower drivetrain.
Information is what enabled businesses, empires and religions to spread far beyond their origins. Information; the need to have quick and secure communications between leaders, is what drove infrastructures such as roads, canals, rails and shipping to ever faster and more efficient routes. An army couldn’t march if there was no way forward or no intelligence as to the whereabouts and intentions of the enemy.
The World Wide Web, as the Internet is now named, began as a better way to communicate; to pass information quicker and easier than letters and couriers. Academia saw it as a way to collaborate and research without sequestering in musty libraries. A few nimble businesses foresaw another way to reach consumers, but for most companies, it was just another advertising avenue and Madison was working out fine. Nobody, not even science fiction writers, came anywhere close to the reality of 2021.
When I was a wee lad, there was such an occupation as door-to-door salesman of encyclopedias. Normally bought a volume at a time on an installment plan. The standard pitch was a guilt trip laid on the parents so that Little Junior here had a chance to have an Ivy League [Harvard and ilk] worthy education for mere pennies a day. Implied was; as opposed to following in dear old dad’s footsteps at the greasy garage. Never mind that Junior had no shot at college unless via the military while Little Miss was expected only to follow mom into the kitchen and nursery.
Personal computers, routers and dial-up modems opened up the world… a curated world that’s true… but a world nevertheless heretofore unattainable for almost everyone. It was even free. An afterthought given away by telephone companies that had no idea how to market the concept. Thus the myth took hold that “information was free!” Free of regulations, free of restrictions, free of censorship, free of corporate control: freedom to create and connect and have a grand ol’ time learning about anything you wanted.
That’s what everyone wanted to learn about. Sex.
What people forgot, or chose to ignore, is that information has never been free. Not to create, not to transmit, not to consume. The market, no matter the political rule, will always find a way to supply demand. Especially demand that is artificially created and stimulated in order to make money. “Social Media” is not new; only the platform is.
The internet has failed if you believed that freely exchanged information was supposed to bring disparate people together in celebration of their similarities. The internet has failed if you believed that creativity would allow everyone to be successful and financially equivalent. The internet has failed if you believed that the truth would become obviously self-evident.
The truth is that the internet is simply a tool; like a plow or a loom, it is how you wield it that makes it a success or failure. Without the internet, I wouldn’t have friends around the world, wouldn’t have published books, wouldn’t be able to follow whatever and whomever I choose. Without the internet, I wouldn’t have become such a diehard spanko.
That’s not a bad legacy.