The What, Who & Why of The Web

Computers. The Internet, The Web, The Net, I get it. Rather than humble-brag and elbow others with that fact, I just want to talk about how others seem to think people don't get the web, or think it's a great distraction for taking selfies and writing cryptic emoji stories to our partner at 2:00AM in the morning, or that The Net serves nothing more than 'great mother enabler' for any noun/verb that will satisfy The Net's capability. Nouns and verbs like community (Reddit), commerce (Amazon), and commuting (Uber) become enabled by The Net all the time, and it is the only motif in town. The only bullshit narrative we can tell our friends when we talk about The Net is that we managed to buy something from it once, or that we are addicted to Snapchat, or that there's a new invite-only torrent site they discovered where they get all their warez and moviez on tap.

Tell me about your story

I don't want to bore you with my story or how I got into computers (I was gifted a Commodore 64 from a young age and modified the source code of games to give me extra lives) so this probably explains the vast bulk of not only how I got into computers, but also the why.

A lot of the noise surrounding 'Web Technology' and a lot of the noise coming from web conferences is mostly concerned with the questions of:

  • What has been done with tech that hasn't been done before? (Think Y.C)
  • What has been done that works well and how can we improve it? (Think Apple)
  • What can I do with the web that will enable {verb/noun} to be better? (Think Uber, Google)
  • What is the state of the art, and how can we make it cheaper and ubiquitous? (Think Maker Culture)

The Who of The Web

There is another motif which is not as pervasive as the {verb} motif, and it's the Who of The Net, or the person in Person Place or Thing. Clay Shirky can talk about this at length and much better than I , and his work has been doing the rounds in social media classes the world over since he published his first few books. Here Comes Everybody was a seminal work and the discussions are still relevant today. If you still don't "Get Facebook", well according to Clay Shirky, you're not meant to. He said this in 2008, and he said a bunch of other things about social media that persist to this day and ring true nearly a decade later.

We don't need Gary Vaynerchuck, or Seth Godin to explain it away. The Who of the net concerns itself with the celebrity 2.0 Youtube stars of our time who feverishly attain views in exchange for AD dollars from Google, or the legions of computer hackers dubbing themselves Anonymous who work collectively to DDOS all your favourite sites when you were not looking, or the Tinder Dating App deviants who use the wonder of TCP/IP to find a partner (The beauty of the baud is still alive apparently).

Next Motif Please

The Who motif is boring, and still doesn't quite get to the point of The Net which is The why ― Why do others miss the point of it consistently, repeatedly, and with an unforgiving pattern? Why does anybody with an entrepreneurial streak seem magnetized to The Net as if by not 'going digital' they are not entrepreneurs and should just give up on the spot? Why are Opportunists walking into hacker conferences dressed like Mr. Monopoly trying to poach talent and scoop up 'fresh meat' engineers for their new Incubator project?

Once we were young We ARE young in the garden

Well the why is emphatic enough, if not misunderstood: The Web Is Still Young, you see. Again, I'm not going to bore you with my story (I listen to a lot of Terrence McKenna and happen to find his work not only relevant to our times, & let's just say his definition of a 'heroic dose' is not that heroic. I disproved it. Don't quote me on that). Now back to our why of the net: The Net has grown up in recent years, and for somebody with a feverish addiction to information that I could handle ten years ago, I had to take a step back and watch this time, instead of assimilating it. One strategy I did try in recent years to manage the onslaught of new information is write scripts and scrapers which extract only the good parts of the net, and deliver it to me in one synaptic nerve dose that made that scene in Clockwork Orange where he watched a bit of ultraviolence look like Bambi.

Cambrian Explosions

Perhaps the why is elusive, and keeps the net going, but not like a fast car on breeze-blocks where the wheels are moving fast and the car is going nowhere (as so many burned out tech enthusiasts like to make claim). Terrence McKenna talked about the net so innocently in 1995 and if he was alive today to see this information explosion he would be astonished (it probably takes a lot to astonish such a man). The only problem I have with playing the information card is that it's an obvious card to play, like when your friend says "Of course the net is fascinating. It's made of information. Calm down. Get some sleep, it will be there tomorrow when you wake up. Stop addicting to this shit man!".

- "More Internet please!"

Also see: Intelligence Explosion

Scraped from the bottom now I'm here

What my friend doesn't realize is the power of scraping and filtering information. My scripts are still there in my bookmarks folder. I remember the night I wrote them, between smoke breaks and strong wine, red bull, fast music, green tea, gigabit backbones, and terabytes of warez. They're there. They survived the mess of life, and the rabbit hole of the web. They survived revolutions, economic collapse, depression. They're still there to this day when I'm in good health, have better hardware, not smoking, and the Irish economy is showing signs of recovery. They're still there amongst all the noise about tech startups and Opportunists converting {noun/verb} to something digital. They're still there when Facebook brings in Dislike buttons, and Twitter now has 'hearts' instead of 'stars'. My why is primitive, like when I changed the source code of Commodore64 games to give me extra lives. My why persists to this day, and this is my message: The Net is what you make of it, not what the current narrative permits. The Net's fertile ground, and it's still very young! Plenty of opportunity out there (Motif yawn), but still very early days, despite the onslaught of new information, and the evolution of web technologies. Mc Kenna says it best when he says that evolution is not a slow and gradual process, but punctuated by key turning points where all future change veers off in entirely new directions.