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The internet has become a ubiquitous (if not essential) tool for the average person’s everyday life. As with most things that are used by a lot of people on a regular basis, there are good and bad aspects of it. There are different aims and goals that people have when using it, and thus there are varying outcomes of what they expect. However, there is one thing that the internet promised, quasi-delivered, and then lost as it became larger and easier to access.

Let me start off by saying that I am in no way advocating that people be restricted or kept off of any portion of the internet. This amazing tool is as close to the free sum of human knowledge that has been reached as of yet, and looks to be for the considerable future. This knowledge should be in no way restricted from for use for anyone without very good reason (i.e. kiddie porn, etc.). That being said, the one big selling point of the internet, intellectual development, seems to be the one thing that has fallen by the wayside.

Any comedian worth his salt could (and for the most part, did) make a joke about how the “information superhighway” somehow turned into a massive pornography distribution system. While this is certainly true, it doesn’t preclude other uses. Plenty of information can be found from Wikipedia to libraries that provide e-books and online journals for public consumption. Unfortunately, with the expansionary explosion that has occurred for the last ten years, tight-knit communities full of knowledgeable people seem to have fallen by the wayside.

When I first got on the internet, I was heavily involved in IRC (Internet Relay Chat). IRC was a little bit more difficult to use than AOL chat rooms, which luckily kept out a lot of the riff-raff. The logical extensions of the bulletin board system (before my time), there was a relatively small number of channels per server and a low(ish) number of users per channel. It really was an online community, where the regulars got to know each other but would be able to welcome new folks who wanted to join, as long as they were contributing something useful.

I recently tried to get back into the world of IRC, and I found it a much harsher place than I remember. There was a sense of camaraderie amongst a few of the obvious regulars, but their numbers seemed small and they weren’t at all interested at welcoming new permanent members. And I could hardly blame them – the number of people actually there to chat and contribute something useful paled in comparison to the sheer idiocy of spammers, flooders, and people looking to download stuff using XDCC. I personally would have acted the same way.

Yet even as I can see the reasoning behind the change, it saddens me. There used to be places where you could go online and basically join a family outside of your family. Then MySpace came along and completely re-defined the idea of an online community. The internet suddenly became high school all over again. Not only were you trying to up your friend count as much as possible, but it became your duty as a netizen to try and reach your 15 minutes of fame. People describe MySpace as a community, but it’s nothing more than a masturbatory aid (metaphorically, though I suppose with all of the teenage girls who are desperate to increase their friend counts and post half-naked pictures you could mean it literally, too).

Of course, one cannot talk about MySpace without mentioning the blog. The blog suddenly became just another place for everyone to grab their 15 minutes of fame or get the attention they so desperately craved by posting dark poetry and constantly reminiscing on suicide. Honestly, you can make all the jokes about LiveJournal all you want, but there’s a lot of that crap going on.

Yes, yes, even I am guilty of it to some extent, though I actually write this for a different reason. I write in this blog a) to remember my thoughts, because I have a terrible memory, but I do it online because b) I want to find like-minded people. Nothing would make me happier than for people who read this blog to e-mail me and strike up a conversation. I’m on the internet about 50% of my waking hours in some form or another, and it’s always nice to have someone to talk to. I’ll end on an anecdote to illustrate my point.

Years ago, I used to sign online at about 8 at night and chat until about midnight or one in the morning. I used AIM back then, back before Yahoo had a messenger and Google wasn’t even in the lexicon. AIM itself had fewer users, but it also had the user search. This was back before every third news story was about pedophiles trolling for young girls, so I would go to the user search and type in a random name (usually Katie or Jessica, just because girls with those names seemed to be nicer. I’m not sure why).

Naturally, not every one of these random conversations would strike up enlightening conversation (or even elicit a response), but I soon had a friend list of about 10 or so people I had never met before in real life but knew quite a bit about. One of them (let’s call her “Mud”) even came to be someone I considered one of my closest friends, because we could literally talk about anything in our lives. Let’s face it, it’s not like we had to be concerned about the other person spilling the secret to someone we knew. Eventually we didn’t get online as much and we stopped talking, but I still say hi to her if she’s online (or with MySpace, erk) every now and then. I don’t know if it’s just the nostalgia of the carefree days of youth or that cyberculture has changed so much as to make that kind of thing impossible, but damned if I don’t miss it.