I nearly missed being invited to Mallory’s birthday party because I’m not on MySpace. Everybody else was invited in advance through this fancy Internet friends network and I was hastily invited at the last minute by a call of Mitch’s cell phone. I am told this is one of the reasons why I should get a MySpace. I don’t see how it wouldn’t be simpler to just get my phone number. Or my e-mail address. Or leave me a comment here – surely there must be a few readers who know that they can just click on the comments link and respond with whatever words they think look good strung together.
MySpace is just the latest in a long line of faddish Internet communities. As Dragon Ball Z declines in popularity to Pokemon and then to Yu-Gi-Oh, so too does LiveJournal fall to Xanga and Xanga now to MySpace. What happens to these orphaned pages as they are abandoned in the owner’s transition to the next 12-to-20-something Internet fashion trend? First come the vultures: a few who examine links, thoughts, and photographs, but finding them to be dead with no sign of resurrection forthcoming, soon turn their attentions to other things. Eventually, the site or the host will die, and all the archived data returns to the ether it was born from.
Will that happen to this site when it dies? How long until the infrequent updates turn to no updates at all? My page will stand as an unobserved monument in a forgotten cemetery, one only ever visited by a few. But it will not fall to rot; it will remain pristine as the day it was first carved until finally the winds of deletion clear it entirely, changing it from existent to nonexistent in barely a moment.
It is the nature of the Internet that such things are gone never to be found again unless one knows the arcane keywords that will dredge them up from Google, but I recall distinctly a story on BoingBoing about a video card forum (or such) that had been hijacked by various lonely people and had eventually turned into a place for them to talk about their loneliness. It is the whim of the God of Internets that such things occur: an obscure back corner of the Web picked up on by a few like-minded people eventually turns into a community and then receives a boost from the largest linkblog ever. Contrast, here, this page, where the visitors are few and they never leave a sign.
I am writing for an audience of ghosts, and you wonder why I never update? What do ghosts enjoy hearing about? Does it bring the spectral hordes delight if I discuss Magic: the Gathering? Or video games? Or perhaps if I shout my personal life out to total strangers, maybe someone will respond?
I suppose that’s what disturbs me so much about the Internet, is that people do respond. Friendships are made across continents between people who’ve never even seen each other’s face. It’s like a global masquerade ball, an intricate waltz where the dancers constantly change their masks. Anonymity changes people, and not always for the better. It allows us reveal aspects of ourselves that we wouldn’t share with ordinary society. It then brings us together with people who share the same desires and creates an insular community where these desires may be cultivated – you need only look at the numerous furry and fetish communities for proof of that. Read Something Awful and you see the dark side of the Internet. Yes, it connects, and it disseminates information, but few of those connections are meaningful, and little of that information is useful.
Weekend Web is a feature that exists solely to expose the truth of human nature as revealed on Internet forums. Video games, of course, attract mindless emotion and poor spelling like nothing else, as anyone who’s ever played CounterStrike can attest. Teenagers are fun too. Global communications networks seem like a wonderful thing until you realize that what’s being said has no value and, as an added bonus, is totally incomprehensible.
I was recently in the company of a girl a couple years younger than me. She had a cell phone. Naturally, she would continually receive calls from her friends. The demand of the modern world is “connectivity at all times.” The Internet, the phone network – it’s all mobile now. You can take it with you wherever you go, so that you can contact other people whenever you want, and they will want to contact you in return. In Japan, cellular connectivity has become a kind of subculture. It’s called keitai. On the subways, on the street, you connect to the world with your cell phone, you carve out your little niche of territory by taking your friends with you. The exchange of information has become so very easy.
Communication has finally surpassed information. The number of ways that exist to say things outpace the number of things there are to say. We begin to text-message gossip to each other, cloaked in an arcane language of acronyms and abbreviations. The Internet has forever devalued the art of writing, as it strips language of subtlety and meaning. Youth of the modern age are impatient. They want things to be fast. I grew up on MS-DOS, and spent much of my adolescence in front of video game load screens. Computers have taught me patience. When I first used the Internet, DSL was only a dream and 128k was blazingly fast. Images you had to wait to load, and movies were a long wait for little payoff. But the rest of my generation, who started out on newer hardware, have become accustomed to getting things now, to fast, simple, personal transmissions.
There are extreme futures towards which we are headed. They are dark ones. The Internet will be replaced with a new connection protocol, one which can be monitored, regulated, and controlled. Uplinks will be implanted into us directly. We will have 100% connectivity, 100% information. But we will have lost our capacity to determine what is important. That will be determined by whatever sounded the most important on the newscasts. It will be determined by what your friends say. You’ve never seen them in person, but you talk with them all of the time. All of the time.
Keitai is the most paranoia-inducing thing in the world. Cell phones allow you to be tracked anywhere, whether or not they are turned on. People can find you and talk to you whenever they want. Theoretically, the information is confidential, but (corporations/the government/insert paranoid agency here) can always make a deal that you can’t find out about. But it’s not them that I’m concerned about. It’s the fact that face-to-face social contact is being supplemented and often replaced with digital translations of normal communication. We move daily towards the point where we are just people in invisible boxes speaking to each other over tin cans and wire, preferring the safe distance and sheltering communities of shared interests that the Internet provides over the often awkward and uncertain proposition of making physical friends the old-fashioned way.