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Whither the Internet?

Barely a day goes by that you don’t hear something about the ‘dot-bomb’, the tech recession, and the severe cutbacks in the PC industry and the dieback in Internet interests. East Coast broadband providers are either going belly up, or are getting swallowed up in the feeding frenzy of a ‘failed’ technology.

A gloomy article in an economics magazine bewails ‘The Death of the Internet As We Know It.’ Their assessment is that commercial interests have failed to utilize it and control it absolutely, which, to me, isn’t a failure at all. It simply means that the Corporate Beast cannot swallow this particular morsel. We may actually have a corner of the world that it cannot dominate.

The original purpose of the Internet was to exchange ideas between research groups, in a manner that was redundant and indestructible by conventional standards. Data is broken up into packets, and routed by any route available to its destination. For straight information, this is perfect, and has turned the Internet into a light-speed Library of Alexandria. It is what I primarily use it for, and every day, new sites come online with even more esoteric interests- way neat stuff like old TV test patterns, homebrew Flash animated movies, rare books to buy, and ethereal interest groups. The Internet is a treasure trove for the marginal, the obscure, the geeky, the intelligently quirky. It is a haven for intellectual eccentrics, Pagans, and collectors of oddities. It is the world’s biggest swap meet, garage sale, coffee shop, side show and library.

And commercial interests can’t handle it. You see, all they want to do is sell you something and make a profit. On commercial sites, they wave flashy banners in your face, begging you to click. In AOL chatrooms, they send electronic ‘spiders’ to troll for fresh email addresses, so they can bombard you with spam, come-ons, sexual aids, debt consolidation, casinos, and everything else that can be bought and sold.

They’re failing miserably- with the exception of businesses that are exceptionally fit for Internet use: auctions, DVD rentals, movie shorts, music and bookstores. I don’t even like going into a bricks-and-mortar bookstore any more, because half the time, I cannot find a clerk to help me, and when I do, they have no idea as to where a book is physically located. Online, I can click on philosophy, then jump to metaphysics, then pop to science, and jog to science fiction, then zigzag to humor…in minutes. No shelving issues, no screaming children, no overworked and under-read salespeople. Yes, I would rather get my books at a ‘real’ bookstore, and perhaps they should provide a browsing kiosk or three for us Net-heads who prefer a non-linear experience. We can click, pick, buy and go. Barnes and Noble, are you listening?

But I digress. Corporations want control of the Internet. They want to control every page we see, every thing we buy, everywhere we go. They want to Sell More Things. Originality, eccentricity, intelligence, and humor do not enter their dry doublespeak forums of overeducated clueless marketing wonks. They have people who are ‘cool-hunters’, but have no idea of what ‘cool’ really is. I’ll tell you: Cool is Un-in Corporated Originality. The second you see it mass marketed, it is no longer cool. It’s co-opted, sold out.

I am a long-time Netizen, and I remember the arguments on Usenet about the commercialization of the Internet, and the dread we had of it happening. I remember the furious reaction to a pair of lawyers who dared to spam Usenet, but sadly, that was a mere finger in a rapidly crumbling dike. The Internet Gold Rush was on, and like the 49ers, people ill equipped to deal with the realities and limitations of the technology came roaring in, plastering the place with banners, cookies, spyware, and handy secure servers and shopping carts. Anything-Dot-Com became the darling of the business world. If it had a dotcom behind it, it was gold, no matter how spurious the original idea was.

Reality and the practicalities of the marketplace soon took its toll. The Law of Experience and Common Sense did not suspend itself for college dropouts with zany ideas- if you burn through your cash, you don’t get any more until you have something marketable. Today, the flood of corporate sharks is receding, leaving a somewhat spotty mess behind. Many once thriving websites are ‘dark’ or have become ‘cobwebs’, and others are cutting way back. The wake is on for Salon, the only remaining original Internet magazine. Will it stay, or will it die? In the meantime, the geeky among us are surveying the damage, and picking up where we left off when the Sleepers came roaring in. We know the value of this venue, and we’re not giving up on it that easy. As long as there is a phone line, and a server with a gateway, there will be an Internet. And it will slowly return to the hands and hearts of those who gave it life in the first place- the original outcast geeks, intellectuals, fringies, as well as grandmas keeping up with their kids and Ebay accounts. Like California after the Gold Rush, the Internet is experiencing a respite from its exploitation, but is slowly being remade into a paradise of knowledge exchange and wide interests.

The Internet is like a meadow after a major fire- blackened and charred, with many causalities, but with life already blossoming within the carnage. My own site is an example: ad free, pure original content, minimal flashy things to distract or crash. It is a pure scroll in the electronic Library of Alexandria, and shall remain so.

Long Live the Internet!

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