It’s hard to imagine a more eloquent description of the death of old internet than the tagline on an Apple legal brief buried in the Guardian last week:
The tech giants’ $1 billion lawsuit against Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter and Google is not just about sending a message that Facebook used mobile user data without asking. If the ISPs succeed, it will prove that algorithms can be exploited without permission.
The Washington Post also reported:
If AT&T prevails, Netflix, Google and Amazon are next. And because of a technicality, just one of them would win.
That we saw that headline and that few internet users noticed it at all may be an indication that we don’t remember the older internet very well. You do remember it, of course, but for many of us, maybe only the distant edges of it: Steam for gamers, Facebook for keeping in touch with friends and family. Maybe even the web we use today.
It’s been almost two years since this entire business started. Exactly two years ago, on June 29, 2017, Mark Zuckerberg announced his terrible, shitty, no good, very bad plan to sell internet to all corners of the planet and that the old internet had died (via Gizmodo).
“People often don’t realize it, but Facebook is a service built from the ground up for the past 15 years, built from the ground up for mobile first,” he said. “We’ve been essentially an old internet service provider, but the new internet is changing the way people do things.”
The problem with a system that Google can buy for $9b, Facebook has to buy for $2b and LinkedIn for $26b: In an age when people don’t remember the old internet very well, and they don’t value it very much, when given a choice, are they going to install a new phone or have another update? Why trust a company that hasn’t been around as long as you? And therefore, we should never give it our data.
Zuckerberg may have changed many things (like the way you use your phone), but the web was not one of them. Users continued to use it, first for free and then for a fee, and they continue to use it. But an age of choice is not a period of mourning or happiness: It’s a time when users stop using a company.
So why didn’t we pay attention to the old internet dying? There are three reasons why I think that no one thought about it as a big thing two years ago.
First, everyone feels safe online. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, all the social networks, which I use and grew up on, they all have a benign facade. The information is there, the connections are easy to find, the simple fact of sending images online. I prefer social media because I can be anonymous (but not too anonymous). I don’t see why the old internet matters, I feel all of it might as well be made of ice cream and I’m perfectly fine with it.
Second, users have access to the old internet because they can log into it. And we have access to the old internet because most apps don’t care about it and I don’t care much about it either. We’re distracted by mobile devices and social media, and to my mind, only use the old internet for games, oddly.
So my question is: why, if the old internet was such a big deal, didn’t more people care about it? They would still be here to tell us how great Facebook is, I imagine.
Third, the old internet mostly consists of people on the Atlantic coast reading articles online and taking photos of themselves while sitting down. It exists because users were stupid enough to create websites like Conde Nast’s Style.com, who saw the money to pay people to do the work and figured out how to print it on paper. But their sites mostly revolve around photographing things, not writing about them.
I love this imagery. It makes me smile. And it exists because it’s easy. It’s not hard to figure out where to stand in front of your camera. I don’t remember how I first saw Conde Nast Style.com, or any other photo-oriented website, but that’s how I saw it. And if this world of design and presentation and art—which I didn’t notice as a 5-year-old—is so threatening to my carefully crafted life, maybe I should welcome the arrival of the new internet. Because it’s likely to include a sunset on a beach or a beach