Call me an idealist but I still remember and believe in the original dream of the Internet and the web. Back in the late eighties and early nineties, when the Internet was just starting to spread like wildfire across college campuses, the Internet was the purview of a relatively small number of colleges, universities and government agencies. Most of the people on the Internet at that time were either students, professors, researchers, military and other government personnel. Sure, there was a small population of CompuServe and early AOL folks, but they weren’t considered “real” Internet users, at least not by us students anyway, and were generally self-contained within their own network.
Back then, we didn’t even have the world wide web yet. We had tools like telnet, ftp, Archie and Gopher. In fact, the world wide web almost didn’t make it as there was serious debate on whether Gopher should be the dominate protocol. But Gopher was originally purely text-based. The web made it easy to display graphics. The web won and the rest is history. I created some of first web pages on my college campus with a DOS text editor and viewed them in NCSA Mosaic, the first web browser.
The original dream for the Internet and the web was to build a global communication medium in order to freely share information and knowledge, thereby breaking down the corrupt corporate and governmental power structures and building a better tomorrow. Like I said, we were idealists. Perhaps too few of us still are.
The Internet and the web today do not resemble this idealistic notion…at all. Today the web is infested by spyware and adware. I actually I had to forbid my wife from searching for song lyrics because of the hours required to clean off spyware and adware. Worse, the web is used to steal money, music and identities, is the primary distributor of pornography and is used by sexual predators to find and abduct children. Not to mention the worms, viruses and spam that infest email, the most prevalent use of the Internet. Back in the day, if you spammed, you were “email bombed” into oblivion and had your privileges revoked by your service provider or administrator.
Today, precious little sharing of information and knowledge takes place. Even universities, which are supposed to be the bastions of free thought and knowledge sharing, do not share information and knowledge. Their websites are simply advertisements for their own selfish interests.
Sure, you can find out the answer to just about any inane question but how useful is that…really? Much of the information out there is useful solely to us technical geeks who while away endless hours tinkering with computers and other electronic devices.
And then there are the questionably redeeming characteristics of the Internet and the web. We have Internet shopping and chat rooms. What boons to society. People can live as shut-ins, not exercise and become socially deficient.
No, I’m afraid the pessimist in me sees that we idealists have done more harm than good. Where once I was full of idealistic dreams of changing the world through the Internet and the web, today a part of me is regretful that we ever unleashed such a haphazard monstrosity upon the world. Another part is angry that such a beautiful dream has been destroyed and the rest weeps for the dying of that dream. Perhaps God truly does need to save us from idealists.
Originally published March 2005