Internet fanboy

I’ve been an internet fanboy for as long as I can remember —at least, as long as I learnt there was a big network of computers that we could all use, connecting us closer together.

It was fun in the 90s. I had to connect from the university network, JANET, to NIST (National Institue of Standards and Technology), then out to the big bad world of what was still essentially ARPANET.

The World Wide Web was still in an experimental state in CERN. I hadn’t even heard of it at that point. We used the Internet like animals; terminal commands, long waits, FTP, Gopher, WAIS, and Usenet, none of the graphically oriented interfaces that we see today.

As I fell in love with the Internet and I stumbled upon an early copy of Wired Magazine in 1993, imported into my native UK. I fully bought into the idea that the Internet was nothing but good for the world.

It would connect us, it would open our eyes to other things, would educate us, and it would even feed us. It would completely revolutionise the way the world works, for the better.

I had no idea at the time that the very fact that the world became more and more connected, it actually drives us more and more apart.

We, as humans, can comfortably ingest, process, and analyse only a few cognitively demanding elements simultaneously. At school, you would have only a handful of friends, and only one or two you could call best friend. If, like me, you were in a large secondary school of around a thousand pupils, it was overwhelming to be in general assembly (with the whole school in one room). The morning going to school, with its never-ending procession of pupils arriving, break time with the crowd pilling out of the building to run around on the playground. All these people surrounding us are too much for one human to get to know, either intimately or on a cursory level.

The Internet completely explodes that model, and we are confronted with tens of thousands, if not millions on possible interactions constantly whilst connected. Twitter, Facebook, Clubhouse, and their indifference to their capacity to overwhelm us is creating a different type of human culture that is, in my view, detrimental to the world. Polarisation, populism, immediacy of need. These are all consequences that are not propice for the sain development of the world.

I wish I had understood this when I was first becoming charmed with the Internet. Perhaps I could have contributed to doing something to protect us from its inevitable negative consequences.

Funnily enough, it was all there then for us to see. Re-read Neuromancer, and you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

15 April 2021 — French West Indies