Nov 25 2010
In the late 1980’s we got a new computer, with a modem. At first my brother and I just fooled around, calling a friend’s computer and text-chatting over the point-to-point (not PPP, yes?) link that was created, but pretty soon we discovered BBSs, and the possibilities started opening up.
Then came the net (for us), and everything changed. No more calling a specific service, or relying on scheduled fidonet mail transfers. Everything everywhere was available, simultaneously (as far as your operating system could throw that, anyway, and as long as you could find it), and the experience, for me at least, was that of freedom.
This is why I was always confused by people who used Compuserve, or America Online (AOL), or even browsed the net using the Yahoo directory. Why constrict yourself to a closed space? Why restrict yourself to only what they have indexed and will show you? Why pay extra for something that gave you less?
The users of such so-called “online services” were restricted to their interface, seeing and accessing only the content that was available on their menu systems. They sent messages via the proprietary client, although – and this is a bit different from the point of this post – this was an actual email account and it did communicate with the outside world. Eventually these services did evolve to supply actual normal internet access, and I’m sure that many people today have no idea what they used to be, but the absurdity of their initial product never faded for me.
Today, however, I see a return to that paradigm: Facebook.
The world, it seems, prefers being constrained (reminds me of a scene from Lost). It seems to me that from (wrongly) conceiving the web browser as being the internet, people have folded themselves into Facebook, and see hardly anything outside of it. Most of their use of the net is there, anyway: Communicate with your friends via the message system (email? huh?), share pictures, videos, and random thoughts, ‘consume’ corporate content such as product or company pages, or advertisements (sometimes it seems to me I’m the only one that feels that they’re an unnatural and unwanted part of life), play games, etc. Why go anywhere else?
Companies today, practically all of them having actual websites, will send you to their Facebook pages. What’s the last time you typed in a URL at a browser’s location bar? Or even looked at it? But forget searching for things on Google, they’ll have you “search for us on FB!” now. You just don’t need to go anywhere else (and don’t forget to “like” everything).
It’s all coming back to me, and I’m still puzzled. There’s more to see out there, and this time around people aren’t really under any limitations: they constrain themselves, willingly. I guess I’ll never be one to understand the mainstream.