An Apology to Tim Berners-Lee
Last night wrapped up National Geographic’s first season of Valley of the Boom. I have to say, I enjoyed the look back at the early days of the internet, and the way the story was told.
Listening to developers and engineers of the time, I got the vibe they really believed anything was possible. Those early years were shaping the Internet we know today. They saw where things were headed, just a bit too early to the party for long term sustainability perhaps.
I couldn’t help but wonder, how did we go from this wide range of possibilities, to a handful of dominant platforms. We’ve given an enormous amount of power to a few social media networks, one search engine, and one e-commerce site.
So I got to thinking a bit further back. Back to when Sir Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web, passed on getting filthy rich and proposed the net should be for everyone. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for what some of this had devolved into. I even remember reading his disappointment with how the web has become weaponized.
Sir, I am apologizing on behalf of humanity for what we have done with the web. I’m sorry for the way we have used what you have given us. I’m sorry we have taken so much of it for granite. I am sorry for plenty more as well..
I’m sorry that we have allowed about a dozen websites or so take over the entire internet. Search engines and social media sites has become the gatekeepers to the rest of the net. This place was supposed to be wide open yet we have closed ourselves in. Browsing the web has been replaced by scrolling through a feed.
I am also apologizing for allowing one e-commerce site to continue it’s quest for world domination. We have not only allowed it become what it is, but we continue to fuel its growth. It is crazy to think how willing we are to shop on a platform that allows basically any piece of trash product onto its site.
Not to say there aren’t great products on there, but think about it. No vetting for quality, very little standards, just abide by the guidelines that allow items to be expedited as fast as possible. Yes, we justify shopping on this platform by pointing to return options, prices, and shipping times. We do this all while they literally take over the world.
I’m also sorry to say it’s functions, with employees who struggle to make a livable wage, similar to the brick and mortar retail giants before them. All while the CEO has literally become the wealthiest human being on the planet.
Turns out business is still business. Sir, I’m guessing you had visions of leveling the playing field, not redistributing massive amounts of money from one publicly traded corporation to another.
I do say sorry for Facebook. I’m not apologizing on behalf of Mark Zuckerberg though. No this is not Zuck’s fault. This is mostly the doings of the masses. The two billion users, give or take a few, are to blame here.
You see Mark has figured something out. Anytime something goes wrong, simply apologize, and do exactly what he had planned in the first place. This has worked out well for him thus far.
No matter what ills of Facebook become exposed, many continue to keep it a part of their everyday lives. Misinformation, election interference, data breaches, genocide, doesn’t matter. People just keep coming back.
If the masses were fazed, Facebook would have become MySpace by now. It hasn’t. Wouldn’t want to miss out on the comment section of a CNN post. Seems when people disagree with one another, they have to let the other party know all about it. Just a thing these days. Who would have thunk it.
I’m also sorry about the rest of social media. I could go through them one by one, but it’s all the same. Ever wonder what someone from the 1940s or 50s would think of Twitter had they suddenly been introduced to it today? Imagine showing them the ability to interact with a politician or celebrity right at their fingertips. Imagine their reaction when they see what people do with that ability.
Remember, years ago, if you wanted to express your displeasure with a politician or a journalist, it would take some effort on your part. You’d have to write a letter, find a stamp, then an envelope, mail it, wait for a response.. Who’s got time for all that? You won’t even be mad by time it leaves the mailbox. Today you can just berate them on Twitter or bitch to strangers on Reddit. Yes, this is where we are at.
Mr. Berners-Lee, I am happy to say that many have used your creation and loaded it with a wealth of knowledge and resources. Though, I’m sorry to say, some willfully create and spread false information.
I’m also sorry to say that many do not utilize the resources they have at their fingertips. They fail to verify certain things and allow themselves to spread misinformation onto others. Some spread falsehoods unknowingly, others don’t care as long as it fits their narrative. Probably not what you wanted either.
I apologize on behalf of Yelp. If someone would have explained that concept 30 years ago, I’d never think there would be a downside. But here we are.
Unexplained and ever changing algorithms, pushy sales associates selling ads, everyone becoming a food critic, people reviewing a five star restaurant one night, a fast food joint the next, fake reviews, paid reviews, lawsuits.. Yeah wasn’t such a great idea. Sorry bout that.
Sorry that we have allowed real journalism to take a hit as well. Many would rather click on a mindless listicle, rather than actually using their minds to read. Not everyone has done this, but there have been enough to kill off many of good publications. We are at the point where people cannot really define what journalism is. I guess it doesn’t matter when the amount of clicks a site gets, supersedes anything else.
It seems that not enough people want to pay for subscriptions these days, advertisers don’t find enough value on websites, and publications can’t find a sustainable business model, and so on. I know the purpose was to give everyone a voice, not decimate the publication industry. Lot’s of blame to go around here. Hope we find a solution.
Oh and I am really sorry for BuzzFeed and HuffPost. Hey, I couldn’t resist.
On a serious note, there is plenty of good to go around as well. It does not go unrecognized and I am thankful to have the access we have this day in age. We’ll do our best over on these parts, and look forward to what the next few years brings.
Thank you Sir Tim Berners Lee and thanks for reading.
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