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"Online Atrophy"

The state of the Internet right now as I see it reminds me of something I've seen in the past.

Right now we're nearing the end of a large shakeout of dotcoms and web sites. That much has been played out to exhaustion by the media and by those annoying people you talk to who think they're the shit but don't really know what the fuck is up.

There are still plenty of companies to go out of business yet, and you're getting the inevitable rush of people who say any dummie knew this was coming. The landlords and real estate people are badmouthing dotcoms, etc. etc. You read personal sites online about people who trash "those stupid dotcom people", I guess unaware of the irony of them saying just that.

So in other words, it's all fucking phony. You can't go anywhere these days without seeing how phony all these people are. Wall Street has bounced the markets, raising up the dredge from the bottom, just as people began to suspect that perhaps the big money is corrupt. Personally I am flexible towards this being a bottom, but I strongly doubt it, and think this is one of those huge squeezes that will eventually bring us much lower, below consolidation levels from the past. But everyone's coming out and saying the "new new economy" (I do not jest about the name) is about to begin.

Okay, forget all that. That's not the interest of this Soapbox anyway. I just think it's sad to see the controlling interests manipulating peoples' sentiment so easily and overtly at the same time.

What I want to talk about is what it's like to use the Internet these days in comparison to the past. I started a long time ago, back when Netscape Navigator 1.1N was elite shit and there was hardly any software out there to use. At that time, the 'Net was still small, and basically if you were using the Internet, you shared a lot of experiences with radically different people even if you were complete strangers. That is, there were so few places to go, that everyone touched the same areas of the 'Net frequently. There was a sense of a community that was driving forward together. There were plenty of good sites for us to go to that were not commercially motivated and so we wouldn't have to sift through mercurial interests to find sites that were actually worth going to.

But now I've found that my Internet usage patterns are much different than they once were. A lot of the sites I regularly visited and software I liked have gradually dropped off the map, because of one reason or another, and nothing has come up to fill the gap. If I had to describe the Internet now, it's like scouring a trashheap. It is like being thrown into the middle of a futuristic, wasteland society that you'd see in Mad Max or Bladerunner. There is no synergy, no community, no feeling that anything is connected to anything else, which is what the Internet was supposed to be.

The way we USE it is totally different. If I need to find some information, I go immediately to google, and then sift through a lot of garbage links which are just commercial fronts. In terms of information, commercial sites are a scourge. You already know you won't find anything of use there. So you are looking for the handful of homegrown experts out there who may have put up a site for their friends. You are seeking the most unsleek, ugliest, textual site that has nothing useless on it because it was only put up to serve the purpose of helping. No banners, no redirects to blahblah.com, no registration, no interference.

And if google doesn't help, I have to go to IRC (and if I were so inclined, Usenet) and ask the very closeknit groups of people there for help. Each person on IRC who has been around a while has a collection of his own links that he needs to get his stuff done. And sometimes they'll be able to help you find stuff.

So in essence, it is a very random process of grabbing tidbits out of the ether, hoping that something has what you need. In terms of communities, so many have died over time or because sites have gone down or fallen victim to BOFH's (Bitch Operators From Hell) that they've really disappeared. There are tons of bulletin boards, chat channels, etc. out there, but these communities are very tight and hard to get into. They do not branch out at all, and usually each person on the Internet finds one or two to stick with and gathers most Internet info just from these circles. There is a very fragmented population on the Internet. You can meet people from entirely different areas of the Internet now, and not have anything in common. You can just sit on AIM or ICQ with your circle of friends and share things that way too, but there's no central web sites or whatever that people go to get information. Those who know more about what's going on spend a lot of time in a lot of different arenas online, and it says something about their versatility in communicating with different communities.

Fuck, I don't even know what's up with the web designers or personal site owners anymore. I see my faves like Old Man Murray, Lance Arthur, and Puce are still going strong. Lance wrote about the state of the Web just recently himself, actually. I personally have slacked off from writing Soapboxes, which is about all I update on the site anymore, and all I care to, but it's just been because I've been preoccupied, even though I have a ton of shit to write about. I will keep plodding through and writing because that's what I do.

You know what? I have a theory. The economy bottoms when we start to see some of these blogs go extinct and disappear from the world forever. It's bad enough that you have "bloggers" writing about how good their blogs are, and which other blogs are good enough, but now you read the media talking about blogs now too. Blog this, blog that. If you don't know what a blog is, it's short for weblog, and is basically the bookmark lists of the old days, with footnotes.

Lance says: "But here's the catch: To be great, you have to give it all away. You have to give it to me and to everyone else and not ever, ever, ever expect anything back. You have to give it all, all you have, all of it. Make something. Be something. Start something. Share something. Be with other great people and be great together. Dream great dreams and make them real. If you have an idea, you have the start. If you don't have the talent, go find it."

While I get what he is trying to say, I think it falls upon deaf ears. I know that I myself naturally gravitate towards doing new things and maintaining projects such as benturner.com. And I talk to other people who get so excited about doing the same, but they never follow through, no matter how much motivation you give them. They just aren't ever going to do it. To which I've learned to say, "I don't give a fuck". People who are going to do something do it, not talk about doing it.

So that's how it is. It's millions of people all on their own online, searching for their information individually. There's no one doing it for a bunch of people, and all sense of community is gone. These stupid companies who believe that they can collect the best list of links and somehow juggle their commercial interests are crazy. You see shit like Napster get emasculated and no immediate successor steps up, but instead a once vibrant community is now spreading out over a number of programs. Companies will never stop people from doing what they want to do; all they're really doing is alienating people even more because people are becoming more and more isolated from everyone else. They just don't fucking get it!

I rode the Internet boom, got out of web designing months before the breakdown (although I wish I realized this stock-wise and went full short), and now I have long felt that the Internet is turning into a warzone. In the sense that consumers are just going to get more and more pissed off at companies and what has happened on the Internet, turning it into one big commercial front with a dark underbelly of bootlegging and piracy. And only the quick and strong are going to survive. The rest will just get more frustrated in getting done what they need to get done.

What, then, did I think the Internet reminded me of? The old school days of BBSs. When you'd get some small local magazine and flip to the back, which was full of local BBS numbers. Then you'd spend hours dialing them up and seeing what they had in their libs. You'd get vicious line n)@#&&%ajua8JA*838oise, but you'd still keep looking, even when you got aNO CARRIER

Oh, it was dreadful. But it was the only way to go if you wanted to find fresh stuff to download, something we take for granted now. But was it really much different than how things are now? We're still randomly looking around, hoping this place or that have the info we need. No companies were out there providing anything useful. Everything's broken apart, nothing shares with anything else. It's getting difficult once again. No one believes the promises and hype, and on the other end, no one's stepping up to fulfill that promise and hype.

So goodbye to the gold-diggers! Crawl back under your holes! The gold rush is over and now things get hard again! Now people have to be resourceful and creative again, like years ago in the pioneering days of the 'Net!

And as a final note, props to the people who just keep doing their own thing, and not stopping to look at what everyone else is doing. Because, trust me, everyone else is doing NOTHING.

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