August 15, 2013

Cynicism Shut Down

The Loop > Magazine > Issue 8

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By Chris Domico

Sometime between 1991 and 1998, the Internet started. Not the invention of the Internet, mind you, but the widely available and somewhat user-friendly Internet. The Internet that got us all hooked on chat rooms. The Internet that allowed us to shop for clothing, books and groceries online. The Internet that would connect all of us to all the world’s information. It was an amazing thing to witness, and everyone was in awe. Yes, maybe the computer nerds were using the web for different things than their moms and dads were, but in our own personal ways, we were all blown away. And all you had to do to get jacked in was buy a computer, unpack it from the ever-so-popular “cow boxes,” and find an AOL disc in your pile of junk mail on the kitchen counter.

For several years after our online genesis, we wandered around in what was essentially digital anarchy. Napster use was a daily habit, and viruses from that Napster use were a daily occurrence. Chat rooms became more like a scene from Bartertown in Beyond Thunderdome than a place to talk about your interests. A single visit to a single malicious website could bring your computer to its knees, and getting any kind of support was virtually impossible. Let’s be honest: Most people sitting down at their computers and connecting to the Internet in the ’90s had absolutely no idea what they were getting themselves into. The people who did understand what was going on preyed on the people who didn’t, sometimes for no reason other than to get mentioned in the news.

Fast forward to 2013. While we still have hassles like viruses and spyware, operating systems and security programs have hardened. Hardware has improved. Data speeds are insane. We are carrying powerful pocket computers around with us at all times, and we think nothing of whipping them out at dinner to prove a friend wrong in an argument about movie trivia or to just surf the web to avoid making any kind of eye contact or small talk with the stranger next to us in the elevator. We can obtain anything, we can see anything, we can know anything. The hardware is simply a conduit for the information, not something that constantly gets in our way. The naive ’90s Internet users many of us used to be are now Internet superheroes. Unfortunately, we are not using our recently obtained powers for anything useful. We are not better off. We have, to put it mildly, become insufferable asses.

I should probably explain.

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