Earlier this week, Prince made the fatal error of crawling out of his long out of touch hole to mention that “the internet is over". Oddly enough, he couldn’t be closer to the truth. Sure, if you read his laundry list of complaints, it merely comes across as someone who doesn’t understand the new business model – the fact that you get paid for what you sell, rather than what the suits think you might sell – but the truth is, he made his comments at a critical juncture in the lifespan of the internet as we know it. The internet, the one you know and love so well, is coming to an end; at least in the way that you know it.
The past few weeks have brought on some major interesting changes. The US Senate has approved a measure creating new government agencies to oversee Internet policy while giving the President the ability to declare a cyber-emergency, allowing him to dictate the actions of vulnerable utility and telecommunications companies for up to 4 months before needing Congressional approval. Days later, the Federal government swept in and closed down 9 websites illegally streaming films, seizing their domains, property, assets and arresting many involved. People who for years have screamed “the information wants to be free,” are now screaming at companies (like Facebook) who take their liberated information and sell it to the highest bidder – that is when they’re not simply using it to improve Google related hits. And just this week, game company Blizzard announced that people will have the ability to see your real name when playing games with you.
So what does this all mean? It means the Wild, Wild, West of the internet is coming to an end. It means the days you’ve come to know as “everyday” will soon become a story of the simpler days you tell your children that future pundits will sell as the perfection we should return to. Why? Because after nearly 20 years of anonymity, we have discovered that human beings are mostly evil, selfish and can’t have nice things.
We live in a world where people anonymously harass others to the point of suicide, only to find their own identities divulged to the world at which point their own lives are systematically destroyed by retribution seeking strangers. It is a world in which you have a hard time playing videogames without some 13-year-old kid calling you a F****T or a N****R – regardless of race or sexual orientation - because, really, who the hell is sexyboyunicornslayer69 anyway? You’ll never find him. We live in a world where illegal pictures of little girls get posted online by boyfriends they thought they could trust, that the authorities can’t prove are guilty. It is a world in which 95% of all music downloaded online isn’t done through iTunes or Napster, but illegally, without a care for the thousands of businesses gone belly up or the artists rarely given the chance to really profit off of their work. It is a world in which more people illegally downloaded last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture than bothered to pay to see it in a theater, where it was meant to be seen.
We scream at each other about politics, we scream at each other about religion, we scream at each other about what movies we like, and we do it behind a gossamer veil of anonymity that most feel is their right - rather than privilege - and is slowly being brushed away, inch by inch. Within ten years you will be using your real name online. Your internet service provider (if not the local municipal government via citywide wifi) will be throttling your connection speeds when they discover you're illegally downloading or streaming. Your employers will be able to not only see your binge drinking on Facebook, but will also know what you have to say about politics, what porn you watch and what video games you play.
A sense of civility will be restored, because many of you couldn’t be civil. The open internet is coming to an end. And maybe that’s a good thing. Then again, maybe it’s not. Prince might have been running off through looneytown with his assertion, but in a strange way, he picked interesting timing. We stand at the turning point of the internet, in which the world we know is slowly being scraped away, leaving us exposed and naked with a trail of our sins leading directly back to us.
Think I’m wrong? Feel free to anonymously blast me in the comment section. Enjoy that freedom while you can.