The Final Days of the World Wide Web

21 Mar


The Nerdist Podcast with Chris Hardwick is often funny and good. Chris recently interviewed Baratunde Thurston Director of Digital for The Onion, a very bright, articulate guy.

Thurston and Hardwick were discussing on-line content and the discussion strayed into digital convergence. Soon, all content will be accessible through all platforms. We’ll watch Seinfeld re-runs on our phones and check Facebook on 50″ HD plasma screens (you’re going to need a better profile picture). Thurston said he expects this to happen in the next 5-15 years.

That’s when it hit me. These are the final days of the World Wide Web. The end of the internet as we’ve known it. A place of different values and ideals, a place “other” than the mainstream. The end of the internet as something cool.

Watchers of internet culture have been predicting this for years. Back in 1997 Wired magazine told readers to “Kiss Your Browser Goodbye” and get ready for ‘…media that steers you…’. Sounds dystopian.  In 2010 Chris Anderson declared “The Web is Dead” and wrote about about a future dominated by “…semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport …” better known as apps. Apps restrict user freedom by offering a limited range of options. They’re popular with passive consumers of information because they’re simple and easy to use.

Think back to something or someone you thought was cool. It doesn’t matter what, because, while ‘the cool thing’ is different for everyone the experience is the same. You thought this thing was cool. It was different and unusual and no one else knew about it or “got” it. It made you feel special to know about it and you got a charge from introducing others to it.

But over time, that thing you loved got sucked into the mainstream. When it did, it stopped being cool. Sometimes you hear a song you loved playing in the supermarket (ugh) or on “Glee” (shudder) and it makes you feel a little sick. That’s cultural co-option and it happens to all parts of our culture, even the internet part.

Soon the internet will be just another channel on everyone’s TV, just another app on a device, just another pipeline for delivering mass produced content. It will be commercialized, marketed and reduced to the lowest common denominator. That’s what happens when a culture springs up with values and practices outside the dominant culture.  It happens to all sub-cultures and it’s happening to the internet. It’s always been happening, but co-option is nearing the final stages of assimilation (cue the Cybermen). Very soon the internet will stop being cool and start being ordinary.

Don’t despair. It’ll be interesting and informative to see how this plays out . There’s nothing we can do to change things, there’s no way to ‘Save the World Wide Web’.

Put on a life jacket, pull up a deck chair, listen to the band, sip a cocktail and watch how things unfold. Keep scanning the horizon. There’ll be another ship along soon. There always is.

2 Responses to “The Final Days of the World Wide Web”

  1. Amanda March 22, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    Great post, but surely something else will replace the WWW? Maybe we’ll be thrown back to the heyday of underground newspapers telling it like it is?

  2. acampbell99 March 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm #

    Thanks. And yes, I think something new will come along. As more ‘regular people’ moved on to FB, early adopters moved off. Now Twitter is hot, but soon my mum will be tweeting and I’ll be off to, who knows where?? 🙂

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