A funny thing happened on the way to the future. If anyone remembers any of a hundred science fiction books and movies, there was going to be some sort of global communication network that was beamed into every home, office and public space all over the world. It was to be be tightly controlled by some all powerful world government, or a corporation that got so huge that it runs the world.
This global network would be the only one in existence, and would be tightly censored, broadcasting only officially approved content. In this way every human would have his or her life closely monitored and controlled, all of humanity finally under the Big Thumb of Big Brother.
You know the story, you’ve seen and heard it so many time you could probably wake up out of a deep sleep and write a pretty decent one yourself. Only thing is, the reality of a world wide communications web is here now, but it features stuff like fat guys playing “Stairway to Heaven” with armpit fart noises on YouTube. So much for Big Brother and his army of censors.
So the first part of our science fiction story came true alright, but the part with some James-Bond-villain-in-a-Nehru-Jacket kind of guy controlling the thought police and calling the shots while small underground cells of rebels figure out ways around the tight security of the overlords to send out messages of hope and freedom to the oppressed masses, well… that part never happened. Didn’t have to, thankfully.
Somehow, the World Wide Web belongs to no one, and literally anyone can post content or retrieve whatever data they feel like. For free, no less, and that includes as many repeat viewings of fat guys playing their armpits to the tune of “Stairway To Heaven” as one’s heart desires. All this must be killing the wannabe Big Brothers of this world, men who possess obscenely vast fortunes and wield enormous power.
How this small but influential class of beings missed the boat of owning and controlling the internet is astounding. These people had TV, radio, publishing and the mainstream press locked up for decades, and enjoyed unfettered access to every important politician in the world, and outright control of a great many of them. Not much that was broadcast, reported, filmed, recorded or written was released outside of the strict supervision of one titanic corporation or another.
Television was a wasteland of the same old same old. Until stiff competition from Cable TV came along, an honest show on network television was as rare as an honest game of 3 Card Monte. Movies were bland imitations of one another and popular books were rehashed variations on several well-worn themes. This corporate uniformity, safety and predictability of our art was becoming as bland as a mini-van, and about as threatening as a kitten.
Even the music industry had been taken over by indifferent corporate suits who didn’t care whether they sold washing machines or records. The result was a bunch of bland, sound-alike corporate rock bands or homogenized silky-smooth R&B acts, triggering another round of music-saving rebellion in the form of Rap, Hardcore, House, Hip Hop and Indie music, which in turn were snapped up one by one, assimilated, homogenized and corporatized into copy cat tameness by Big Music.
Enter the Internet. Free access. No censors. Instantaneous worldwide dissemination, far outstripping the reach of any television network or radio station. People started writing letters again, called e-mail. Every business not wishing to perish started doing e-commerce. Google provided the road map to negotiate the millions of websites and social networking pages.
Corporations and governments put up elaborate websites, and so did families, showing snapshots of junior, videos of their barbecues and graduation announcements. Something called chat rooms sprung up for the lonely, the voyeuristic, or both. A Golden Age of Pornography was born, with an astounding variety of flavors available, putting Baskin-Robbins to shame (and often to good use).
Writers wrote what they felt like, musicians recorded what they wanted to and the results were available to anyone anywhere. Blogs were born, on-line newspapers sprang up overnight. YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace and all sorts of other social websites have hundreds of millions of accounts, with few rules regarding the content that people place on their pages.
Musicians are saying screw the record companies and marketing their own music online, as are authors, painters, photographers and other artists. People are texting and tweeting and Skype-phoning each other on the opposite side of the world all the time and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
The internet is doing nothing less than completely transforming human society, on a par with The Bronze Age, The Navigation Age and The Industrial Revolution. We don’t notice it since we’re right in the middle of it, any more than a foundry worker in Manchester in 1837 figured he was on the cutting edge of history. The forest for the trees and all that…
But that is exactly where we are, at the Dawn of A New Age, the very beginnings of the Internet in its exciting formative stages. Perhaps one day this era will be called The Age When No One Owned The Web And Fat Guys Armpit-Farted on Video. A little wordy for naming an Age, perhaps, but an improvement over the sterile sounding Information Age. That doesn’t begin to describe the far reaching and humanity-changing events of today, with perhaps one of the biggest changes being the lack of private ownership.