The irony of the modern internet

Green zeroes and ones

Looking at the state of humanity in regards to its use of the internet, I cannot help but be baffled. It took me a while to understand why I felt that way, though. Today, I think I may have cracked it, or least partly cracked it. Let me try and explain.

The internet has evolved greatly over the last few decades. It started out as a collection of interconnected academic computers. Somewhere in the 1990s it started to become more mainstream. More and more people were able to connect to the internet (the “web”), but offering content was still the domain of companies. Individuals were mere consumers of the offerings of the internet.

During the 2000s, this changed. People started to run their own web servers and publish their own content. This was only accelerated by (then) new platforms like Facebook and YouTube. However, this quite quickly marked a shift in our use of the internet. In stead of running our own web servers, we put our content in centralised platforms, like WordPress. At the moment, most “social” content is served by Facebook, Instagram (owned by Facebook), Twitter, Snapchat, and a few more. It seemed like it was a logical progression, although I’m not at all sure it was a good one.

Now, in 2017, with the increasing value of the Bitcoin and other digital currencies, people are eagerly looking at the “blockchain” and what is has to offer. If you’re not familiar with the blockchain, it is basically (and I’m selling it short here) a decentralised and distributed public ledger. It is heralded as “the future”, because it has the potential to cut out the middle man, by which I mean the banks. It is considered a good alternative to evil banks, those pesky companies that keep our money, charge us for keeping our money, and have to power to cripple the economy and get away with it.

The blockchain basically is a decentralised and distributed public ledger.

Now, if you look carefully at what I wrote in the previous two paragraphs, you’ll see two scenarios that involve the internet, but are completely at odds with each other. In the first scenario, we basically moved all our stuff (and I really mean “all” our stuff) to a few companies. Those companies can do with it however they see fit (and make no mistake about it: they do whatever they want). In the second scenario, centralised institutions are considered bad, and we desperately want to move to a completely decentralised solution.

The blockchain is considered a potential solution to a great many problems, but I’m fairly sure it won’t be. On the other hand, people are starting to complain about the companies we use to share are thoughts and maintain our “social” networks. Twitter is under fire for poorly handling Nazis and sexual predators on its platform. Facebook has come under scrutiny for accepting ads paid for by the Russians that may have helped Trump becoming president. The horror.

The most important objection to not leaving the very platforms we criticise is that “we don’t have an alternative”. Let’s be honest about it: if you’re not on Facebook, you are considered a pariah, an outcast. How can you maintain friendships if you don’t let Facebook handle it for you?

“We don’t have an alternative to Facebook or Twitter.”

I’m starting to believe the solution to this conundrum is right at out fingertips. Because there is an alternative to companies that act as social networks, but are basically selling our every though to the highest bidder. It’s called the internet. It’s the infrastructure that those companies use (to a point) to get their advertisements onto our screens. The internet is the infrastructure that is also used by the blockchain. It is the common denominator.

It is time we take a step back and look at how the internet was intended to be used, and how it is misused at the moment. If we want to take back control of our lives, we need to step away from centralised solutions and move toward decentralised solutions. The internet can do this, it has always done this, it was designed to do this. As a side note: this is exactly why it is so important to maintain net neutrality.

We need to take back control of our online lives and stop feeding our most intimate thoughts into pretty anonymous companies who do not look after their users, after you. Those platforms do not exist for you, they exists for their advertisers and ultimately their shareholders. Jack and Biz and Mark don’t give a fuck about you, as they have shown time and time again.

Jack, Biz and Mark don’t give a fuck about you.

It’s time to step up and take away their power. Let’s move back to using the internet how it was supposed to be: decentralised and without big companies deciding how you should spend your money, or how you should vote.

There really is an alternative, and it is readily available.