The Internet before 2015 and what it means for us
Marko Mirceski, 2021-07-07
The Internet is a peculiar place. On one side, it is the gateway to an immeasurable amount of information, open to anyone curious enough to look for it, and a community that is often friendlier and more forthcoming than most of your real-life friends. On the other hand, it opens us up to mass surveillance and scrutiny from anyone whose opinion you so blatantly defy. But something around 2015 that changed the internet drastically, and made it lean to the latter evil.
So in this ranther lengthy article, I will give insight into ancient internet history, and analyze how the change affected every user on the net.
A "short" history of the internet
There is this peculiar rumor that Tim Berners-Lee started the internet. That is completely false, but he commited a lot of technologies without which the internet wouldn't be usable for us today. No, the internet has existed for a few decades longer than just that.
It all started with DARPA building connections between mainframe computers at government agencies and various universities, therefore creating the first Meshed Wide Area Network, called ARPANET. The ARPANET served the purpose of sending messages across the United States of America via telephone lines, by dialing into the target computer. (Fun Fact: The first computer virus originated in the ARPANET. It was called Creeper, and it wasn't really malicious. The only thing it did was sending itself from mainframe to mainframe, printing the message "I'm the Creeper, catch me if you can". Of course, someone also created the first Antivirus-program on the same network, called Reaper. It's ony purpose was to hunt down the creeper.) Of course, the ARPANET wasn't the only Network in existence, so it was forseeable that it would be connected with other networks over time. And so, when the 90s rolled around, we already had a somewhat working internet infrastructure. All it needed was that little "extra" to make it work just as we know it today.
That of course came in the form of new specifications and protocols, the most importand of them being the HyperText Markup Language, also known as HTML, and the corresponding HyperText Transfer Protocol, also known as HTTP. These two make up the most important building blocks of the internet, and are still used by all webpages today.
"Before 2015": the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The internet before 2015 was like the wild west. A new frontier, unexplored by most, with its own culture, rules and crazy people talking about the world ending tomorrow. At first glance, it looks like a horrible place to be. And you might even be right. But the internet back then wasn't as horrible as it at first seems. It is the time when the meme, the digital instance of insider jokes, was born. It was also the time when websites were somewhat loadable, and browsers were only programs used to access these loadable websites.
But it wasn't all sunshine and roses. I hate to say it, but if you were anything other than straight, white or Assigned Male at Birth, you were basically excluded from all the fun. Because the "old" internet was a pretty xenophobic place, and you could forget any type of inclusion. And god forbid if you were a female gamer complaining about sexism.
But as mentioned, not all was bad during these times. Yes, it was a bit horrible for some people. But all in all, most of the users of the old internet had their fair share of fun. They messed around, and showed a real passion for this strange digital realm.
"After 2015": old frontiers, new times
2015 as an absolute changing point is actually a stupid idea. Because if one thing is true about this change, it is that it happened over a long timespan, and not abruptly within one year. I only use 2015 as a reference point, because the changes became very noticeable in the following years.
The first change I want to highlight is the fact that people on the internet became socially aware. More and more people started to use the internet to berate bigots and educate people on the importance of "Social Justice". Another noticeable change was the fact, that more people started to talk about actual issues, things like racial inequality, climate change, discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and the exploitation of users by nonfree software, among many.
But this change wasn't all positive. Big corporations started to approach the internet with a more "Hands-On"-mindset, pushing their proprietary technologies down the throats of the people. And thus the people got addicted. Also, the rise of awareness brought out the worst white liberals you could possibly imagine. With their Soy Lattes and macBooks, they started policing the speech of people, sparking outrage on twitter over allegedly racist things, "cancelling" people over statements that were almost a decade old, and so on.
Big companies, as it is in their nature, started to pick up on this, firing employees over things they said over 10 years ago, meticulously looking for dirt on some people then kicking them out over the artificial outrage they themselves incited.
The rise of surveillance
And with these things, we entered the age of surveillance. Inarguably the worst time to be online, this time in the history of the internet will be remembered as the last stand for privacy on the net, and in our lives. The big issue with this is that it's not just the big companies that are after your data. It's also your government that wants to know all about you. And when two big parties compete for your data, you won't win.
I think the main motivation behind this push for data collection is the struggle for total control. Everyone wants power, and with that power you can subjugate people to your will. The more this continues, the less freedoms we have, and it will be even harder to hold onto the ones that are left.
How to not give up hope
With this as a possible future, many don't even see the point in fighting. They willingly give up to these "corporate overlords" because in their eyes, there's no way around it. But I tell you, you shouldn't give up just yet. Because there is still a lot to be fighting for, and you can still reclaim all of your freedoms.
And although the peer pressure to just give up is very real, it is indeed a horrible idea. Just because your friends and family have succumbed to the nightmare that proprietary software consists of, doesn't mean you have to do that too. You can always make the switch to free software and evade the data-collecting grasp of big tech and your government. It may be inconvenient, but it is definitely worth it.
This is the most important time of our lives. And if we don't fight against these greedy data-hoarders, we will all lose. In the end, ambivalence to this problem will make us into slaves of our impulses and desires, and we must never fall that low. I have hope that one day, we will beat them all. And then we will restore freedom in cyberspace, one computer at a time.