25 years ago today, Al Gore had a dream; a dream in which people could look at photos of cats, find weird pornography anonymously, and directly tell every member of Metallica that they illegally downloaded their music and then call them a collective bag of dicks. OK – fine. That didn’t happen (well it kind of did).
But the Internet is officially 25 years old today. The creation of Tim Berners-Lee has blossomed into the most amazing invention since gravity or Chuck Norris Action Jeans.
It won’t bind your legs, unlike shackles.
The Internet is, in many way, much like The Twilight Zone. It is a weird, segmented place where everything and anything can, and will, happen. The show, made famous by the legendary Rod Serling, created a reality in which the phrase “unexpected” didn’t exist. It was a universe of talking dolls, creatures from other worlds, and lessons in morality. Much of this exists in cyber-space.
The Internet is in fact odd and random like many different areas of The Twilight Zone. It has very similar qualities and I feel the same reaction when browsing online, as I did while watching my favorite episodes for the first time–”I wonder what’s going to happen tonight? What in the fuck am I going to see next?” Unlike the show however, the Interweb exists in reality; a reality the world has never seen before. The Internet is a very special place and within it lie numerous magical regions.
It’s certainly come a long way over the years, battling such formidable foes such as dial-up, SOPA, Nigerian Princes, and slow-loading pornography. Ah the Internet. How I love thee. A microcosm of revolution, change, and advancement all rolled into one sexy package (like the robot from Weird Science). The world has changed dramatically in the 25 years since its inception – but in other ways it hasn’t changed at all.
THEN: The year was 1989. Mr. Mom was pretending to be Batman, Sharon Stone was still hot, Shawn Michaels was a Rocker, and people all over the world were trying to decide whether or not Steve Urkel “did that.” It was a banner year for pop-culture. We saw the birth of The Simpsons, Seinfeld, American Gladiators, and the founding father of reality television (and new reasons to mock the south) COPS. It was also the conception of the world wide web. The Interweb started small, and much like Superman, it didn’t realize its full potential for a while.
NOW: The Internet is the main source of entertainment, media, and information (and of course, misinformation). It’s aided the collapse of regimes, exposed world wide brutality, and has allowed people to hurt strangers feelings on an epic scale. Speaking of which, there is a dark side to the greatest technology ever. Just as the Interweb has made it easier to mingle with Christians, date Js, and find Juggalos on OK Cupid, it has made bullying, stalking, fraud, and several other shitty things substantially easier for terrible people.
Let’s move on from the negative as no one wants to get insulted on their birthday. The Internet has created some incredible and hilarious achievements over the years. Let’s examine them in the snarkiest, and the most potentially offensive, way possible.
In its own special way, the Internet is its very own sovereign nation. It has a set of rules and regulations. It is watched over by a mighty Anonymous army and has citizens that reside in chat rooms and video communities. It has its troll bullies and faceless villains. A total melting pot. Most importantly, it is governed by cats. Cats, the all-powerful and adorable mascot of the Interweb. From cats counting their money, to cats that wear bread, cats knocking shit off tables, or just lying around like digital potentates – cats are a formidable force on the good ‘ol WWW. 25 years ago, you’d have to go outside, or god forbid, own a cat in order to see one. Nowadays, they’re a click away – and all for the better!
Back in the early days, one would have to roll the dice on purchasing an expensive movie or album, never knowing until it was too late that their purchased treasure was a dud. Sure there was MTV and theaters, but you only got select offerings. And yes, you COULD get 2 VCRs or cassette decks and dub tapes, but that practice was slow and clunky. For the more savvy (and presumably virginal) there were news groups and IRC. primitive, yet efficient sharing sites to swap other peoples intellectual properties without causing anyone any harm.
Then there was NAPSTER. Napster made stealing user-friendly. It made it seem like, as the immortal Nelson Munst would say, “…a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark.” And indeed it seemed that way. But then came the dark days. The days of the IRAA and the MPAA – the gestapo of the recording industry and Hollywood – faceless goons who would sue the shit out of grandma and grandchild alike for downloading and sharing MP3s and other digital files. Soon Napster would be gone but others would take its place. KAZAA, BEAR SHARE, and even further down the road were the torrent sites with mainstays like The Pirate Bay. Sites like this have tried to force the major industries to evolve, with both hilarious and tumultuous results. In a way they’re successful, but it’s a slow, uphill battle.
The battle for internet piracy still wages on 25 years later, blurring the lines between right and wrong. No matter what side you’re on it’s certainly a relevant topic that has created a grey area in the field of not only morality – but also the future of digital content.
/b and RULE 34
To the less enlightened (or more enlightened to be fair), Rule 34 states “if it exists, there is porn of it. No exceptions.” Now you may or may not buy into this – but deep in the bowels of cyber space, there are, to be polite, odd communities. To be more accurate, people are fucked – seriously, seriously fucked. And every act of Internet badassary, every meme, every deviant or diverse subculture, every major stepping stone in the 25 year history can in some way be attributed to 4Chan.
“All roads lead to 4Chan” is an adage I firmly believe. When I was employed as a search engine evaluator, I took some time to study 4Chan. Even a basic Wikipedia search can reveal some truths. It’s where Anonymous started. It’s where Perverted Justice started. It’s a hub for communities you didn’t even know existed but, I swear to god, would interest the hell out of you. For 4Chan alone, I thank the Internet.
There are hundreds of actual achievements made by this amazing technology. Regardless of how you use the world wide web, it is the crowning achievement of mankind. Open information sourcing and sharing. It has united the world for better or for worse, and it’s only 25. As long as it doesn’t start smoking we can expect a very long and, most likely, controversially awesome future. Happy birthday, Internet. I love you.
[‘Internet Concepts’ image courtesy of Shutterstock.com]