Take a journey back in time to January 1983.
After a long and challenging pregnancy ripe with complications, the internet was born.
The newest communication protocol, transfer control protocol/internetwork protocol (TCP/IP), hit the scene, providing computers on different networks the ability to communicate with one another.
A Troubled Childhood
The nascent internet suffered a lonely childhood. Its only friends were the tech nerds and geeks, who used it to share files and communicate across continents. A few businesses joined in, seeing the benefit of emails, but most people did not even know it existed.
A massive growth spurt during its teenage years catapulted the internet into stardom. The first web browser appeared in 1993; by 1996, there were over 100,000 unique web pages.
The internet’s awkward teen years saw everyone fighting for a piece of the pie. In 1998, when it was 15, investors worldwide went all in on the web. Digital start-ups rocked Wall Street, with the Geeks finally making their fortunes. New players constantly entered the game, and the internet rode high to adulthood on a seemingly unstoppable wave.
It came crashing down in 2000, just as the internet approached age 18. The dot-com bubble decimated Wall Street, costing investors millions of dollars.
But the strong survived, and the internet emerged into adulthood.
The internet recovered from the dot com bubble to take its place as one of humanity’s greatest achievements.
Through the 2000s, it emerged as the pinnacle of human culture. People formed communities with like-minded individuals across the globe, shared their passions, and created gigatons of content, mainly for the love of the topic.
Platforms emerged, making information sharing more accessible than ever. YouTube allowed people to upload home videos, Blogger let people share their thoughts with online communities, and social media flourished, vowing to keep you connected to the people you care about.
As the 2000s turned into the 2010s, the internet slowly changed from a web of free-flowing ideas to a platform dedicated to capitalism. Corporations moved in, gobbling up precious internet real estate to fill their already overflowing pockets.
Alphabet Corporation (Google’s parent company) became the ultimate information gatekeeper. Though its original mission sought to help people find what they wanted on a web filled with pages, it quickly turned into a pay-to-play spam fest where those with the deepest pockets reaped the biggest rewards through paid ads and manipulation of the search results.
Social media morphed from platforms helping us stay connected to platforms filled with rage bait as their algorithms rewarded sensational clickbait content over high-quality reporting.
The Internet’s Mid-Life Crisis
Artificial Intelligence creates content in seconds, adding even more trash to a web bursting with low-quality web pages and overly commercialized junk. The old idea of sharing and connectivity is all but lost, as everyone stampedes ahead in their own quest to make a quick buck.
The internet, like all of us navigating a mid-life crisis, must ask itself a vital question:
In its current form, it seems like the web’s primary goals are to enrich the rich, divide the masses, and bring out the worst of humanity.
Is that the ultimate goal, its final legacy?
Is the internet doomed to fall ever deeper into commercialization and despair, or can it break free from the shackles of giant corporations and monied interests to reclaim its former glory?
The Internet as a Measure of Public Opinion
Although it seems like a living, breathing ecosystem, the web isn’t truly alive. The people consuming and creating content guide its growth and direction.
It turned into a massive cesspool of hate and greed because we let it.
We consume rage bait.
Creators traded their integrity to cater to humanity’s lowest common denominator in an epic race to make more money because hatred sells.
Many no longer even care about content, using artificial intelligence to fabricate thousands of pages filled with substandard articles in a quest to attract eyeballs to their website so they can make a few extra pennies.
We traded nuanced conversations for short sound bites appealing to our base emotions. We refuse to think critically about content shared and instead act like animals, hooting along to takes we agree with while hollering into the void at ideas countering our biased belief systems.
Humanity has lost its way, and as our beloved internet navigates middle age, we have the opportunity to change course or to continue down the destructive path that caters to our worst desires.
Can the Internet be Saved?
I refuse to believe the internet as it is today is a mirror of humanity. Though, in its middle age, the online world has become a cesspool of greed, hate, and debauchery, we can do better.
People made the Internet, and despite big money’s massive influence, we can remake it in our own image.
To do so, we must examine the harsh truth about where we are and how we got here.
Its Starts Offline
Though the internet isn’t a mirror of humanity, it does reflect the feelings of the time. It bursts with greed and hate because we do, but examining why is vital.
Are humans a horrible species, or are we expressing our fear and uncertainty of trying times through fits of online rage?
I believe it’s the latter.
As wages stagnate, living costs soar, and tensions grow around the world, people online cower into their safe corners and lash out at anything threatening their perceived safety.
To fix the internet – we must first fix the world.
As People Get Healthier, So Will the Internet
People who feel secure in their lives, who find meaning through self-actualization, relationships, and belonging, and who can afford to pay their bills and save for retirement aren’t spouting rage online.
People with opportunity, wellness, balance, and things to strive for create and share beautiful things online, not hatred. People with stable jobs don’t need to worry about monetizing every passion online; they create for the sake of creation.
We must bring that stability back to the masses.
Take it Back from Corporations
Finally, we must reclaim the internet for ourselves. It doesn’t belong to the Googles, Twitters, and Facebooks of the world. It belongs to all of us.
Though they refuse to accept it, these companies play a significant role in the internet’s midlife crisis. In their constant effort to keep you on their platforms, they elevate the worst content.
The algorithms don’t care that they’re pushing hatred; they’re only designed to keep people engaged on the platform for as long as possible. Rage bait works, so they elevate it.
And it’s destroying us.
Not only is it making us more divided than ever before, but it’s also normalizing fanatical content, making a subset of the population think horrific ideas are “reasonable,” and pushing the Overton Window to the furthest extremes imaginable.
We’re having conversations today about race, gender, and equality that were taboo only ten years ago. People with outrageous opinions about whether certain people deserve to exist are elevated, celebrated, normalized, and shared on these platforms.
To stop it, we need to stop engaging.
We must let go of our anger and let the toxic content disappear back into the dark corners from which it came. We need to stop letting the massive corporations guide our online lives – even if it means switching to smaller, lesser-known alternatives.
The Internet’s Mid-Life Crisis is Our Turning Point
As the internet reaches middle age and decides where to go, we must step into the driver’s seat.
We can decide whether we want a web (and world) filled with depravity, anger, and hate thrust together to enrich the billionaire class or an internet of free-flowing ideas filled with creativity, respect, and connection.
Choose wisely. The future of the internet and the world at large depends on it.