The tech industry and its press have treated the rise of billion-scale social networks and ubiquitous smartphone apps as an unadulterated win for regular people, a triumph of usability and empowerment. They seldom talk about what we’ve lost along the way in this transition
First of all, they are a triumph of usability and empowerment. If anything the media has systematically underestimated the value of the web and communications tools on it until it was long since obvious they were having a huge effect.
But when I read Anil’s post two things come to mind.
First, this scene in The Watchmen
“What happened to the early Web dream?”
“It came true. You’re lookin at it.”
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It’s not that I disagree with Anil’s piece. I miss parts of the early web and its ethos too. But some of what he writes about never really worked that well.
The real promise and dream of the early web — or the 2005 web — had nothing to do with machine tags (which were hardly used) or Technorati’s search (which never worked as far as I remember) or being able to download all your uploaded content (where are my Friendster photos and messages?)
That stuff was not important.
The dream was that by lowering the bar of publishing and communication we’d all be publishers. We’d all be writers. We’d all be artists. We’d find new audiences, new forms of media. We would cease to depend on television and newspapers and gatekeepers for culture and millions of great ideas would get more exposure and bloom.
In order to achieve that on a global scale individuals blogging on their own sites only got us so far.
People like me and Anil who thought that was the future were wrong — having a web presence won over having a web site.
What over time brought that dream to orders of magnitude more people were services like Diaryland, Xanga, Friendster, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
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The second thing is a quote from Kurt Cobain — that all their hard work in trying to expose kids to important music just led to Pearl Jam.
I always hated Pearl Jam.