Even before I was born, the potential for world exploration had already been exhausted. Today, the only dark spots left on the map are covered by water or buried deep in equally undesirable environments, like Canada. So until technology allows me to fly the sails of manifest destiny in outer space, I've settled on the exploring the Internet instead. Last Columbus Day, I chronicled my daring, yet brief journey through the savage mysteries of the World Wide Web and have since devoted myself to exploring and cataloging it more thoroughly. I dug deeper, stayed up entire nights and spilled a warm combination of Dr Pepper and bravery across my keyboard. The following is not just a beautifully crafted epic of adventure starring me -- it is also a warning of what to avoid out there, a warning you will likely ignore because you refused to read an introduction this long before skipping ahead.
My core demographic.
So sing, Muse, of a man of many ways, driven on an odyssey across the Internet, of the time he wasted, and the pains he suffered, and the heaps of pornography over which he stumbled. Sing of his longing to protect his fellow man, and of their reckless self-destruction despite his efforts.
I ran aground in eBaum's World almost entirely by accident. I was hunting for a gun safety video I did over a year ago and I found a version on their site. It was stripped of the original water mark and the picture resolution looked like Vaseline smeared over a screen door. A little extra time poking around revealed that the entire culture of eBaum's World was built on stolen material, an island in the vast expanse of the Internet thriving exclusively on plagiarism.
"Mine! Oooh, called it."
I marveled at their reverse approach to building a community; they had no language of their own, no morals, no voice and no visible intent to appear necessary in relationship to the world. Their complacency even felt infectious. Watching the videos and reading the jokes, I started to wonder why I would ever want to leave; everything the Internet had to offer was right there. Everything. And if it wasn't yet, then it would be in a week. But pretense fell when I tested the search function: punching "ambition" into the field returned 116 results, punching in "drugs" gave me 4,430. The focus of eBaum's entire world was skewed toward synthetic contentment. The site itself was a powerful sedative and I knew I would waste away if I didn't leave.
I struck out in search of an antithesis to the culture of eBaum's World. I wanted to see passion, even if the focus of that passion was horrendously misguided. What I found was the Drudge Report. At first glance the site seemed exciting, it was littered with links to all over the Internet; a morally black and white social hub of politically-minded intelligence. But I gradually discovered that only one man was responsible for keeping it all moving, and that long ago he was driven insane by his loneliness.
"Show me a damn birth certificate!"
Proving that a man can, in fact, be an island, he filtered everything through a single-eyed perspective. Then, lacking any voice of opposition, he slowly transformed into a righteous, angry giant. Also, he eats people. Just eats them raw. Not in a metaphoric sense where he cuts his teeth on the bones of politicians. He literally consumes human flesh. Don't ever go there.
Having witnessed cannibalism, I thought I had seen the worst the Internet has to offer, but nothing could have prepared me for the wastelands of 4chan. "Out of the frying pan and into the fire" does not adequately describe the fall I took into relentless hell of /b/. The pedophiles, furries, racists and trolls have all gathered together in a seething pile of sweat and hatred to take "random" to its logical conclusion. I wandered through pictures of corpses, silicon breasts and what I can only assume was a body egesting out of every orifice. There is no organization to any of these sensory attacks, just thread after thread of weaponized horror. In fact, the community can turn anything into a weapon, including sex, something I used to love.
It's like the website equivalent of prison.
And rather than destroying the community, they seem to feed off of on another's cruelty like demons, or abused women, or abused women demons. They grow stronger from it, and more dangerous. Even after leaving, the site still haunts my mind. Just visiting the random board is as unnerving as watching an orgy between fatally ill hospital patients. In fact, it's entirely possible that's an actual video available in /b/.
The littering of breasts on 4Chan, despite the terrifying context, sparked my biological imperative in ways that make me less than proud. I wish I could say that I simply drifted past the sirens' call of pornography on my journey, but I didn't. I stopped to listen, because I am only human and because "listening" is the most polite euphemism I can muster.
Like the bonobos, the people of YouPorn.com solve all of their problems with sex. No matter what the members of the community may encounter each day -- from running out of gas in the desert heat, to getting caught cheating on an academic test -- you can rest assured that order will be restored through the magic of fornication. Yet the system is fragile, their culture is dependent on everyone adhering to a few distinct rules:
Rule #1: Massages only end one way.
- Nurses are incompetent at everything except physical exams.
- Maids are terrible house cleaners.
- Braids or pigtails on a woman denote high school status, despite what the bags under her eyes may tell you.
- If a man and a woman coexist in a room with a chair or a bed, they are obligated to bang on it.
- And finally, the most important rule is that no one is having any of this sex for reproductive purposes, as evidenced by the weird ritual finale of every copulation session, or in their native language, "the money shot." It is a constant reminder that everything that happens here is for recreational purposes only.
This last rule is the primary reason the beckoning song of pornography is so hard to simply sail past. It has less to do with the sex itself and more to do with its tacit hints that everything here is designed for fun, and only fun. All other emotions are abandoned for the sake of the sensual. It's easy to get sucked into that mentality forever, patiently watching one lighthearted erotic scenario after another and listening to the dulcet tones of body slapping.
I spent considerably more time docked in the warm, gentle waters of YouPorn than I had anticipated. Hours felt like seconds, days like hours in that reverse naked-Narnia. Yet even with the site's potential to hold my attention hostage, I had yet to face the biggest time-sucks of the Internet. Passing between TV Tropes and YouTube was the greatest test I may ever face.
There is no right choice.
TV Tropes is a veritable black hole of hyperlinks, each leading further into the center of oblivion. The entire site is made up of a community that spends its life collecting patterns and commonalities between fictional worlds. It applies names to every plot device, every story arc and every cinematic tool ever captured by a camera and then links them to one another. The result is like being in the mind of a paranoid schizophrenic deciphering hidden codes in newspapers. Clicking on one link will ensure that you click on another, and another until you have lost your way back home and forgotten who you are.
And behind every pattern presented by TV Tropes, there is the video proof on YouTube. It is not so much a community as it is a collective made up of millions of heads, all struggling toward the same goal of immortality at any cost. There is no shame, no etiquette and no structure -- just a monstrous blob of fame-hungry faces, and barely legible insults. Yet, even knowing all that, I still couldn't turn away. I was certain YouTube would engulf me if I explored it for too long, but I couldn't help watching children fall asleep while eating, or drunken geriatrics fight in the street. It was all the entertaining aspects of life distilled into three-minute videos. How could reality hope to live up to that? I realized that therein lies the threat of the Internet as a whole.
If there is anything I hope you glean from my adventure, it's that that the true danger of the Web is its relentless intent to keep you. To keep you occupied, keep you entertained and keep you rooted perpetually. It is hoping that you forget about everything else in your life and stay here forever. Worst of all, I'm part of it. You can't trust anything I say. So as you venture out into the great abyss of the World Wide Web, take my warnings with a grain of salt, but take them. Also, remember my name. Remember it when I am gone or when you're floating name options around for your first-born.