This piece started as an exploration of people sharing secrets and private moments on the User-Generated Content websites of Web 2.0. I wanted to look at why people were inclined to be more open on the Internet and why they were so comfortable with such a new media. The more I read, and began to understand the technologies and ideologies involved however, it was clear to see that it was the format and function of current Internet tools that influenced this.
Then I began to appreciate what a truly exciting moment we are in. Like the printing press before it, the Internet is a new technology which is full of potential for changing our current conceptions of communication and the sharing of information. We are presented with the opportunity to use the Internet to become whomever we want. There is still a lot of naivety amongst the public concerning the digital footprints they leave behind on the Internet. However for the first time a majority of people in the Western world have some form of Internet access and computer literacy increases all the time. In several countries, France and Estonia among them, Internet access is already a human right and within the United Nations there is a push for this to happen across the board.
No one has written a manifesto for the Internet. When the Internet was first made live, there were no written rules at all. Increasingly we see laws being passed to moderate the Internet, its content and its usage, but no social rules or precedents existed in its virgin state. It is the Internet’s public who have the power to decide what that may be.
Sceptics would say that the Internet is robbing us of privacy and showing us confused truths. They imagine a horrific future where our minds are not our own and we dare not trust our neighbours – even if these nightmares are an exaggeration they are right to worry that it could become nothing more than a gossiping tool or that we will never be able to truly trust any Internet content. But I would say that we must keep changing the Internet until we can over come these problems – change the way we use it, change the reasons we use it. Perhaps we have not uncovered a lot of its potential yet.
The Internet is still in its infancy – sometimes it stumbles and society needs to correct it, for example the huge amounts of music piracy that existed in the early Noughties. But the music industry and the listening public learned from each other and legal options for obtaining music on the Internet not only were formed, but have also become incredibly successful. The music industry was shown that the general public did not want to steal music; they were just looking to find it in a different format. Hopefully the amateur and the professional, the public and those in power, can continue to work together and find common ground on the Internet to create the most intuitive and valuable services possible.
In the past, exploration of undiscovered parts of Earth was still possible, but only by a certain class of the population. In the 20th century space was our goal. With the invention of the radio and television, and a well-established journalist profession, the public could follow the achievements of scientists. It is easy to see this man-made landscape as a frontier to be explored. While an intellectual exploration, rather than physical, it is something that the public can actually partake in, can get a hold of and see up close for themselves. Some are more qualified to do this than others, but the potential to farm the resource of the Internet is theoretically open to anyone. As the decade closes, mainstream, traditional media channels, the newspapers, radio and television, are beginning to realise the relevance of the Internet. They dubbed 2009 “The Year of Twitter”, a clear sign that Web 2.0 and its applications have become mainstream too. The Internet is growing up. Perhaps we will grow as well.