6 Disturbing Trends That Might Ruin the Internet Forever
There was a time when no one took the Internet seriously. Gangs of anonymous hooligans could crash websites and swarm online games to their hearts' content. The FBI barely had a website, let alone the ability to arrest 4channers. Cracked was still a print magazine, and America's insatiable desire for dick jokes was met by a vast array of crude Angelfire websites dense with hit counters and various browser-sodomizing embedded GIFs.
Click this link and hate everything.
The Internet is taking its first baby steps toward respectability, it's true, but it still has a lot of growing up to do before it graduates from "insufferable little shit" to "joyless productive adult."
(When the Internet dies, you'll need published evidence of the truths your teachers failed to mention. Get The De-Textbook and laugh your way through a post-online world.)
Cases in point:
Companies Will Soon Show Bandwidth Favoritism
Have you ever stopped to think about how weird it is that a single click can deliver you to Facebook or Jim-Bob's Erotic Taxidermy Homepage with equal ease? Facebook spends millions of dollars a year to keep their servers up, while Jim-Bob pays his host about $20 a month. Despite a vast disparity in the bribe budgets of these two media titans, Verizon is forced to treat them like equals. This is what people are talking about when they mention "Net neutrality."
It's often seen as an absolute. The Way Things Are. But the FCC's first attempt at enforcing Internet neutrality didn't come until 2008. And it was a "success" in the same way our occupation of Afghanistan was a success. In other words, the FCC is still fighting, and absolutely nothing has been decided. Verizon's arguing right now for the freedom to add tollbooths and fast lanes to the Internet. If the D.C. Circuit Court sides with their millions of dollars in lawyers, only the Supremes will be left to stand for our freedom to view SwingingCartoonDicks.org as easily as the Huffington Post.
Cracked's future rests upon their sequined bosoms.
The end of Net neutrality is the tech industry's equivalent of erectile dysfunction. It's going to happen one day, and all the Viagra Google can buy won't stop the inevitable. There's money to be made in treating the Internet the way we treat physical property. Why shouldn't Walmart or Amazon.com be able to pay for better "real estate"? It isn't right that rich people have to browse in the same filthy tubes as gutter punks with cracked iPhones. The moneyed among us should be able to pay (and charge) for a better Internet experience.
That's the basic argument House Republicans made when they added an end to Net neutrality as part of their list of crazy demands for raising the debt ceiling. They lost this year, and perhaps Verizon will as well. But neither group will ever stop fighting this battle. And Comcast, lead wallet in the money-fight against Net neutrality, now spends more money bribing Democrats than Republicans.
It's cool, though -- corporations like Comcast are people. Really impossibly loud people.
Even Google, patron saint of Net neutrality, recently told the FCC that they should have the right to limit how subscribers use their bandwidth. So enjoy your digital palace of socialism while it lasts, comrade, the walls are coming down.
Searches Will Turn into Conversations
The iPad is proof positive of one incredibly important technology trend: If you give people something they saw in Star Trek, they will buy the fuck out of it. We saw Jean-Luc Picard balding about with this fancy number ...
... and the first company to actually offer a tablet computer that tiny and convenient wound up making approximately every dollar in the country. This goes back further than The Next Generation; Star Trek has inspired inventions ranging from the mobile phone to NASA's new ion propulsion system. Much of this has to do with the series' long-running trend of seeing technology as a good thing, rather than the inevitable precursor to Skynet. Normal sci-fi looks at the concept of a humanoid robot and gives us the T-1000 arm-knifing people. Star Trek takes that same concept and responds with Brent Spiner.
He barely impales anyone.
Outside of the whole "zipping around the galaxy in giant space ships" thing, there's only one major Star Trek innovation without a real-world counterpart: the ship's computer. Captain Picard doesn't hop onto Google when he has a question. He just says, "Computer, what kind of alien venereal disease is Riker covering up with that beard?"
Siri made a valiant effort at this, but she's less a robot you "converse" with than a robot you shout sexual propositions/movie lines at just to see what she'll say. Google's "conversational search," released earlier this year, allows you to search like a Starfleet officer. Finally, you can pace around your living room demanding answers from a robot who sounds a little like Majel Roddenberry. I had some research to do for an
abduction article I planned to commit write, so I decided to give this bold new innovation a try.
"What is Vanilla Ice's real name?" I asked, using my actual voice and everything.
As if I didn't know. As if I'd ever not known.
A robot ladyvoice boomed from my speakers, "Vanilla Ice's real name is Robert Matthew Van Winkle."
That checked out with the official fan guide, so I asked, "Who is his spouse?" hoping against hope that the answer would be "no one." Alas, my computer replied:
"His spouse is Laura Giaritta since 1997."
"WHO DOES THAT WHORE THINK SHE IS?!"
My next question seemed to confuse Computer. She understood my shouting, but she said nothing in reply this time. Instead, she almost sheepishly slid me a link to Vanilla Ice's Wikipedia page.
Fortunately, Computer was out of date. A little digging informed me that they split up in 2011. So it isn't perfect yet, but Google's trying. And conversational search, combined with a Parrot AR drone and this smartphone-controlled laser gun, allows any nerd with roughly 500 bucks to make his own personal Enterprise for, like ... 10 minutes at a time.
A man can right a lot of wrongs with a flying laser and 10 minutes.
Anonymity Is No Longer the Norm
The reason for all this brouhaha over the NSA and the FBI's break into Tor is that a majority of Internet users still remember a time when anonymity was a given. But that era has ended. There will always be more Silk Roads and Tors out there, but nothing you put online is safe. The old days of buying a nudie mag from that dude at the newsstand and trying desperately not to make eye contact are back. Only Google and Facebook play the role of that old man's silent judgmental stare.
While most users still think people SHOULD be able to browse anonymously, a nearly equal majority recognize that this is fucking impossible. Even Hushmail, the go-to messaging service for journalists, child pornographers, and people buying drugs online, is more than happy to decrypt your messages for the feds.
"When we said 'private,' we didn't mean 'from the government.'"
A tiny fringe of people will always fight to hide their Internetting. But for the rest of us, anonymity is quickly fading into the past. Last year, the New York State Assembly debated banning anonymous comments over the entire state. The Huffington Post banned anonymous comments in August. And in October, the European Court on Human Rights ruled that online anonymity shouldn't apply to people who act like dicks.
As of November, Google started dismantling anonymity in the festering cesspool that is YouTube's comment section. This leaves 4chan and Reddit standing alone, backs against the wall, united by the justice of their cause and fighting to the end with every DOS attack and upskirt picture of a teenage girl in their arsenal.
Field Marshall Douglas Haig is clearly 1918's answer to Anonymous.
But It's OK, Because the Internet Can Read Our Minds
Imagine it's a few years in the future. You're driving home from work, with two hours to spare until the season premiere of Breaking Bad 2: Everyone's a Vampire, when your phone chirrups:
"You need a haircut, and there's a barber with no open facial sores on your route home from work."
They said you weren't real, but I never stopped believing.
You get your favorite type of haircut, and as you're leaving the barber shop, your phone points out that the grocery store next door carries the exact brand of vodka you use to drown your sadness on sale for $5.99. This sounds like a beautiful dream, but thanks to John Krumm, Big Brother's grandfather, it's coming in the very near future.
Working with Microsoft's research lab, Krumm developed a program that collected 32,000 days of GPS readings from several hundred people and vehicles. Armed with this data, Krumm found that he could predict the future travels of any person in his study with better than 80 percent accuracy, up to 80 days out. Every drug dealer reading this column just shat a brick.
"How cute! Three days from now, he's gonna start hiding it up his butt."
The Death of the Cookie
Congratulations -- all our privacy-conscious ways have successfully killed the cookie! As soon as people learned that websites were attaching the digital equivalent of leeches to their browser, they started putting on ... leech repellent. Whatever it is you use to stop leeches. Garlic enemas, probably.
Or this, but only as a last resort.
The point is, cookies are dead, and advertisers still need to track your ass, because the Internet isn't worth very much money if they can't. Today they use something called fingerprinting, which records everything from your computer's monitor size to your history of software updates. It works on mobile browsers, which were traditionally immune to cookies, and, like any good horror villain, trying to fight it only makes it stronger.
Every change you'd normally make to "reset" your history -- uninstalling and reinstalling your browser, for example -- makes you easier to track. Enable all the privacy settings you want. Amazon.com will still know that you spend a solid 45 minutes each day debating whether to buy that full-size replica of Hellboy's gun.
Do it. You'll be fighting the recession.
We're Addicted to Multitasking, and That's Going to Change the Internet
There are too many cool gadgets out there to not multitask. What, are you going to watch TV without an iPad? Like some sort of savage? Fuck that. There's browsing to be done, and it's not like Big Bang Theory works hard to earn your undivided attention. But advertisers have realized the distracted nature of their audience, and a new generation of "integrated" marketing designed to hit you on multiple devices at once is just on the horizon.
We'd be fools not to jump on this bandwagon.
One day soon, we can look forward to banner ads and pop-ups timed to coincide with whatever product NBC's shilling this week. Don't get pissed. You're the one who logs in to everything with your Facebook ID. The equally creepy but also cool upshot of this is that we're also on the verge of context-related browsing. Search engines will recognize why you're asking questions.
Rather than sorting through a list of search results, you'll get snippets of relevant text from all the best sources your browser could find. Yes, it'll be ghastly at first. And buckets of old people will end up accidentally reading hardcore cartoon erotica. But progress can't be stopped, and nothing short of atomic holocaust will make us turn back the clock on convenience.
You know who only uses one screen at a time? Freaking animals.