The early internet was a time of wonder, discovery and the possibility for sometimes awkward but empowering self-expression. Web 1.0 required dedication, knowledge, skills and taught people that it was necessary to understand the tools they were using, but that once they were understood, you could actually join in. The much-maligned e-mail – one of the most brilliant inventions of all time – is a platform-independent protocol. The internet is unlocalized, almost anarchic in its structure. If there ever was a technological utopia, it was then.
Web 2.0 is a thin veneer of allegedly customer-friendly but heavily corporatized tools more easily accessible to the masses of consumers. Corporations are feeding off people’s desire to make connections, be creative or critically contribute somehow, but everything is contained within corporatized spheres of influence where netizens are turned into consumers or even users. Everything is ideally simple, takes little time, shies away from deep discussion and debate and celebrates a happy culture of superficiality, narcissism, agitation, filter bubbles and complete dependence on corporate platforms. Transfer your web site to another provider, even download it on your computer? No problem with Web 1.0 tools. Transfer your Facebook content to Linkedin or to whatever came of Myspace (at least it survived Google+)? Some hybrids remain – WordPress being one of them (used by yours truly in addition to my classical web site) – so do old-style web sites. But the “mobile bias” makes it tough to exist in a Web 2.0 world if what you do cannot easily be integrated into the brave new world of monetizing people’s creative energies.
Now comes the Metaverse – promoted by one of the biggest offenders as laid out in the previous paragraph. I do remember the rather pointless “Second Life”, and I do see the potential of the world-building in “Fortnite” (though the killing sometimes gets to me…).
Call me skeptical, call me a Web 3.0 Luddite, call this a Jeremiad – but this will not solve the problems posed by 2.0. “Dumbing down” the net, and increasing the “entertainment” factor even more will not cure the ills that have brought us to this point.
The turn from netizens (“citizens” of the internet – basically, you had to teach yourself to become a semi-nerd to be able to play, but you could own or control a significant portion of the “means of production”) to users or customers (almost like drug users, akin to consumers of “soma” if you remember Huxley’s Brave New World) brought out the worst in us: reliant on corporate infrastructure and their creative control and oversight, what you learn is not longer the equivalent of tool use but mainly only to use of the end product. That may be enough for most people (sadly), but they are conditioned to like this, rather than to liberate them and rediscover Web 1.0. The primitive idiocy of Twitter messages and Facebook status updates is ideal for tribalism and superficiality. If you don’t get people to write much, they will also not read much. This is bringing about Idiocracy, a film that used to be funnier before some of its prediction seem to have come to be true.
What will the Metaverse bring? More corporate control. More gamification. More user-centric design. Brought to you by the same people that already brought you Facebook. What could possibly go wrong?
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