There is only one thing the Internet is particularly good for
Do you know what Floppynet is? It’s when you are formally connected to some Fidonet Technology Network but you don’t use a modem of any sort to exchange your data with the rest of the network. Instead you write your network packages to a floppy disk and bring it to your node operator, so he can send it to the uplink, then download your mail and write it back to the disk. This way you can have a fresh mail every other day or so. Or week. Or month. My personal record is 1.5 years. Anyway, back in the day, it was an only option for those who didn’t have cable connection. Basically a XX century wireless technology.
I used to be a Fidonet user while in high school, but then I moved to enter the university, and since my room had no telephone wires, I had to face the horrors of excommunication. Luckily I met a guy who knew the node operator close to my dorm, and I asked if I can join in with floppies. “Sure,” he said, “no problem. Just buy me some beer and we’re even”. I bought him a briefcase full of beer. Literally briefcase — like the one they use in movies to carry cash or heroin. It was a sign of appreciation, the manifestation of importance to be communicated.
You know, in Fidonet you were not anonymous, you had to be responsible for your own actions. If you acted like an asshole, you could have been baned from some parts of it, but if you appeared to be a major problem, the worse thing that could have been applied to you was total excommunication. It was a tough thing to bear. Imagine being banned from the Internet for life. Your friends, your favorite communities, your right to speak and be heard — it’s all in the past. It’s interesting, that the church uses the same word for throwing people out of communion.
My point is, being part of the network was a huge deal for me for almost twenty years now. I started with Fido in 1997 then there was Usenet, then of course Internet with a bunch of forums at first, then Livejournal, then Myspace and Facebook and Twitter, and only recently Medium. I’ve spend the bigger part of my life communicated and now, gathering all this experience in a pinpoint of sense, I have only one thing to declare: network is way overrated.
Sure, you have tons of information on a hands reach, but does it really make you smarter? Since the invention of public libraries, lack of information ceased to be a problem. It’s the other end that sets the limit. What’s a point of having petabytes of data at your disposal, when the amount of information you can actually consume in a day is about a size of a small book? And dislike the Internet sources, books are credited and edited.
You might argue that Internet helps quite a lot with the research. But it mostly helps to find published articles of your interest. Or the books. They are rather available off-line, Internet only saves you time you’d spend getting to your library. Also from my experience, libraries, if including their exchange network, have much more to offer than the Internet. Of course, it highly depends on the subject. It’s easier to find cutting edge IT stuff on-line, but it’s still best to go to the library for materials on liberal arts and nature sciences. With notable exceptions of lesbian porn and cats of course.
For research there is only one case when Internet is always better than the library. It’s if you live far away from the decent library, and Internet is your only choice. The same cognitive limitation principle applies here. You’d find enough material to set yourself busy for life either way. And you will fish your data eventually, you would just spend more time spitting bones.
As for social media, it’s also very disappointing. Twenty years ago I thought that listening to anyone who has something to say would be world changing, enlightening or at the very least exciting. It turns out, it’s harder to predict things 20 years into future, than 2500. The situation with the Internet was best described in 5th century BC by Laozi: “He who knows, does not speak. He who speaks, does not know”.
There are of course exceptions. There are prominent blogers that desire attention. For some the Internet is the best possible platform. But most of the people worth reading on-line end up writing books anyway. Publishing is just more prestigious and better paid form of communication. And books are in no way inferior to the Internet. They form the web, every respectful non-fiction book has hundreds of links to other books or other sources like research papers or manuscripts. And they are world wide, I can read books published in Canada while siting at home in Ukraine. Basically books are the original World Wide Web for which network is only an orthogonal feature.
Furthermore, most of the things that make the Internet useful are actually orthogonal to the networking. Things like telephony, broadcasting, video and music distribution, and also commerce in general — are all self-sufficient without the Internet. However Internet does make them cheaper and easier. It is true. Well, while it is also true that best of the things come for free like love and sunny days, things that are cheap and easy are more like vodka and herpes.
But while the whole Internet is overrated, there is one phenomena of the network socializing, that is both underrated and extremely important. It’s on-line gaming. You might think it’s just a mere form of entertainment, but I see it as a huge social experiment. Prolong its 13 years life World of Warcraft managed to attract more than 10 million people. That’s Denmark, Uruguay and Latvia put together. I think that in the future the whole world would be run not by politicians, but by game designers. Because unlike politicians, they know how to make people satisfied with the game.