The internet is not what it used to be. What was once a massive decentralized collection of nodes has slowly coagulated under the banners of various "social networks". No one I know in real life has their own "webpage" anymore and I can't blame them. Why would you go through the trouble of learning HTML and CSS and designing all your own cute little graphics when you can share everything you want with the world via Facebook, LinkedIn, and Tumblr? Most of the reservoirs of knowledge too, have been collected and fused. No student browses much further than Wikipedia these days, maybe bothering to click through the sourcing links at the bottom if they're thorough...
Lately I've been thinking about where my information about the world comes from. It's a natural line of questioning, I think, considering that in real life the circus of events that shapes the globe very rarely visits the suburbs. I stopped trusting the TV years ago, having been subjected to hundreds of hours of Fox News at my grandparents when I was younger. My respect for paper media lasted quite a bit longer, until approximately my first year of college when, driven a bit off the rails by medication, I would consume several newspapers a day to compare the inconsistencies in coverage.
It may come as a shock that I ever trusted the internet at all. Adults always told me about what a den of misinformation it was growing up but I think it was easy for a younger me to pin this mistrust on what I perceived as a backwards view towards technology. It was easy too, to trust in the internet, when these same adults gave high grades to papers they swore up and down would be failed if information was used from any website without a .edu or a .gov suffix. But I think, more than these personal experiences, what made me trust the internet was the idea that it was big, big enough that if you climbed into it and really looked, I mean, *really*, *really* looked, you would find the truth somewhere, even if it was just a single candle of truth hidden in the bowels of a Google search. It was kind of a religious thing or maybe a humanist thing, like such an enormous collaboration between human beings could never be corrupted so entirely that the kind of malicious manipulation and censorship that so characterized past centuries. I was, obviously, wrong.
The internet is now being endlessly suffused with grotesque self-interest. On the ground level, innumerable shills spread the propaganda in the name of small business, big business, and nation-states the world over, wrapping their words in prose designed to emulate and then gain the trust of the common person. No wiki page belonging to a politician or business person or any individual of any influence goes undoctored. All the social networks practice explicit censorship. "Democratic" aggregators like Reddit are used to manipulate the online mob with such deftness that it makes your head spin. Death threats are hurled at the slightest provocation and there has already been at least one high-profile death following an over-zealous hunt for justice.
The internet kills people now. The news reports on cyberbullying-related suicides are legion. A vast global network with the potential to catapult humanity forward has become a virulent engine of teenage insults. It's ironic when you think of the kind of people who built the internet and what they likely suffered in high school.
There are bright spots for the free internet. I hear the crypto movement is doing well and Bitcoin, which I heard of and dismissed years ago, has swollen to prominence. But those things don't really affect me. I'm a simple guy, I don't own a business that might use Bitcoin and I don't need to send encoded anything from place to place. All I ever really wanted from the internet was to talk to people. I have had amazing experiences talking to people via different anonymous services and chat clients. I once spoke to a young woman in Cuba who was bored with her government desk job. The tedium truly resonated with me. Another time I exchanged messages with a South Korean stewardess about rising tensions on the peninsula while her boyfriend was serving his mandatory military duty on the border. Her yearning and fear was as great as any I have ever known. I spoke to people in China and Turkey and Brazil and learned what they thought of my country and their own. It was fascinating to hear their criticisms towards the self-proclaimed "last superpower" and a reliable mix of patriotism and self-loathing towards their own governments. These people, who would never be interviewed by cable news, gave me far more insight and empathy for humanity than any tightly controlled media site could.
But that site has since become a place where people solicit cybersex more than anything. It's a fate symptomatic of the larger arc of the "information super highway" but I guess it's inevitable. If you're really serious about truth in the digital age, you'll have to get it the old fashioned way; putting down the computer, going outside, and talking to someone.