There are things about the internet that I don’t like, and I want to talk about them. Yes, there are good things about the internet that I do like, and I’ll talk about those some other time, but for now, I’m going to complain.
Back when it first entered the culture’s attention, the internet was a wide open space, full of potential and excitement. We could do whatever we want, and if we couldn’t do it, we were certain that the technology would catch up! It was great! We communicated through chat rooms, message boards, and some of us, the bravest and most prescient, created our own websites, staking our claim on an open territory of the World Wide Web.
Then came commerce, and it was even better. We could buy things! Pet food, insurance, games, medicine, whatever we needed. There was even a website we could use to buy books, but we’ll get to that in a bit. The internet put the world at our fingertips, and that was before we had smart phones in our pockets.
Personally, I blame social media for the downfall. The first few sites were OK, and while I wasn’t involved at the beginning, I do remember MySpace, and, oh, does my heart yearn for the simpler days of such an understated, unregulated social media site. But, just as we were all getting accustomed to (read: ‘bored with’) MySpace, a new thing appeared. It was clean, and fresh, and bright. It had blue accents, and organized pages, and a uniform appearance wherever we went. It was called ‘Facebook’, and it was a revolution.
Everyone flocked to Facebook. Everyone. It took over the internet, and as everyone flocked to it, all those other spaces became ghost towns. Sure, there were more rules on Facebook, but that was just for our protection.
Well, while we were distracted by talking to each other and share pictures of our cats, in the other corners of the internet, another menace grew. Sure, it was nice to be able to buy books on the internet, instead of trudging through actual, brick-and-mortar bookstores, but then Amazon began to sell things that weren’t books. They sold electronics, and games, and toys. Then they made it easier to access the internet for everyone. All of it powered by the convenience of buying things from the comfort of our own living rooms.
Soon, Facebook was THE place to be, to hang out with our friends and share our lives and Amazon was THE place to buy things. Then came Twitter. Want to share some funny idea you had? Use Twitter, and do it in an instant. Have a nice picture you want people to see? Post it on Twitter, and everyone will see it. Facebook’s limited to the friends you already have. On Twitter, your stuff is open and available to everyone! You can make new friends.
For a little while, it was a golden age, but then the rules kicked in. At first, they were innocuous. Can’t post things that everyone think’s are objectionable, things so objectionable that I won’t name them here. Can’t harass and bully people, things we all agreed we shouldn’t be doing anyway. We all agreed that, while the rules were cumbersome, and sometimes they got in the way, they were generally OK, and if we didn’t like them, we could always go somewhere else.
It started to fall apart when we realized there was nowhere else to go anymore. Like the train companies and mining conglomerates of the old American west, civilization soon overtook our open, free space, and we were trapped. Sure, there was a way to survive, but it meant moving in a direction that many people found objectionable. We tried to found new places to gather, to sell, to talk, but most stagnated under constant, one-sided complaining, while those that did grow became targets for The Powers. Even starting a personal website is an inadequate option because, no matter how much work we put into a site, where can we advertise it? Either use The Powers’ resources or toil in obscurity.
This stifling of speech, of ideas, of freedom has had a detrimental effect on art, and that is part of why The Internet Sucks. Art is often controversial. In fact, I’d say that pushing controversy is one of art’s primary functions. But instead of ‘well, we have to tolerate it in the name of free speech’ like I was told in the 90s whenever someone desecrated an image of Jesus or sang about sex and drugs, art that offends The Powers is shut down. The rules used to be that things an individual found objectionable could be ignored, but could exist. Instead, The Powers have declared that whatever offends them, in their ‘wisdom’ must be removed, expunged, destroyed.
The problem with the internet isn’t that it’s made us easily offended, it’s that The Powers don’t want to get in trouble, and they take it upon themselves to be offended for us. They see themselves as above us, as greater than us, and why shouldn’t they? If we were as great as them, why didn’t we have the ideas that gave them power? And since all of The Powers see the world the same way, they believe themselves to be right, in all things, and thus any who see the world differently are wrong. Thus, any art that stems from a ‘wrong’ point of view, or even art from someone with ‘wrong ideas’, must be put down, and since all that remains is art that complies with The Powers’ wishes, art degrades and loses it’s appeal.
There are ways to fix it, and many of us are putting in the work to do just that, but right now, The Internet Sucks. Like fire, all technology can be a wonderful servant but a terrible master, and right now, the internet is the latter. The Powers have wielded the technology of the internet to shape the world as they see fit, and that’s one of the reasons The Internet Sucks.