“This is our world now… the world of the electron and the switch, the beauty of the baud.” For people who grew up at a certain time with a thick glowing monitor casting light on their faces these were the closing words of their own Declaration of Independence. For those people the internet was not a layout of graphics and flash videos blaring from every website, but amalgams of text. The internet before the internet was an elitist place, like Linux, it was part puzzle and part love of taking intangible things apart and putting them back together again.
Like most revolutionaries they were doomed to be made irrelevant by the consequences of the forces that they had set in motion. The curiosity that was their code of honor has been overtaken by the world that they helped open up. And that world is an amazing place.
Freedom of information is no longer an idealistic slogan, it’s a commonplace reality. So commonplace that it’s hardly worth mentioning. People once fought and died to protect libraries. Now you can take every single library within a hundred miles of where you live, whether it’s a metropolis or a small town, and dangle it from the end of your keychain as a flash drive. Books, articles, vast troves of information, even classified diplomatic cables. Everything is available.
While the back ends of the system have become more complex, the end user experience has become trivially simple. With the iPad and the Kindle Fire, and Android and Windows 8 spreading the experience across generic tablets, the user experience comes down to touching the screen of a locked down system which is actually a disguised storefront to sell the user content through a carefully controlled, but fun to use environment. That is an overstatement, but it’s also the trend. It has been a long journey, but we finally have the technology that movies told us to expect wrapped in a simple package without any of the depth or complexity. Without most of the freedom that was at the core of how the technology got started.
The economics of the internet are based around it as a vehicle for the delivery of goods and services. That transformation is slowly destroying American retail, it is doing so at a snail’s place as big box retailers struggle to adapt, but the shopping mall and the big box store are still dinosaurs and their day is swiftly coming. Retailers who sold anything that can be digitized and delivered over the internet are already gone. Music stories, video rental places and now bookstores are vanishing into the past. An era when we get many of our goods out of CAD/CAM printers is not entirely inconceivable.
Virgin, Blockbuster and Borders have been sucked into the vortex as the middlemen in the marketplace that the marketplace no longer needed. The megacorporations which actually produce the songs, movies and books have been making their last stand since the nineties and their last stand invariably involves lawyers and lobbyists, rather than intelligently adapting to the marketplace. It is hard to feel sorry for these massive behemoths stomping and roaring about, bellowing about thievery everywhere.