I remember travelling with my parents on the newly opened M6 motorway in 1959. My father’s Austin Ten motor car hurtled along this magnificent new road at a breath-taking forty miles an hour. To me in the back seat it seemed very fast, but still enabled me to spot something I’d never seen before. It was an old articulated lorry trailer parked in a farmer’s field adjacent to the new motorway, and on its side was a huge advertising hoarding.
I’d seen advertising signs before, of course, in towns and cities on the sides of buildings, but this was different. This farmer had seen the potential to make money by selling advertising space along what was to become one of the busiest roads in Britain.
I have no memory of what that hoarding was advertising, nor did I realise that what I was seeing that day was the beginning of a new era in the lives of the people, an age of mass advertising that would take over our lives and change them forever.
It was thirty-five years before the internet, and another few years after that before almost every home had its own computer connected to the WorldWideWeb. It was the wonder of the age. New providers and websites began to spring up and it was mostly all free to use. I met my American wife on Yahoo’s “Find a Friend”, the first dating site on the net. It was totally free, both of advertising and for use. There was even a box that could be ticked, marked, “Pen Pals Only.”
The internet was like a child in those days, innocent, uncorrupted, virginal, a community like none ever before.
Then came the corrupters: Google, Microsoft, Apple and others. Small start-up internet providers were rapidly bought out by the bigger fish, until they in turn were swallowed up by the giant corporations who saw the dollar mounds of profit from large scale advertising revenues.
There’s a name for this degradation of the internet, “enshittification.” Coined by the tech critic, Cory Doctorow, the term is most apt for what has been allowed to happen to the internet over the twenty-odd years since its inception and corporatisation.
The child has grown up to be a monster.
John Naughton, a professor of the public understanding of technology at the Open University and frequent Guardian columnist, wrote this week:
“Those whom the Gods wish to destroy,” says the adage, “they first make mad.” Actually, that’s overkill: the Gods just need to make people forget. Amnesia turns out to be a powerful narcotic and it’s been clouding our perceptions of what’s been happening on the internet for at least 25 years, namely the inexorable degradation of the online environment and our passive, sullen acceptance of that…”
He then goes on to give examples of such degradation, of which there are legion.
You are probably reading this on my blog site, Sparrow Chat. You can continue to read unhindered by any form of advertising whatever. I’m not here to make money. It’s a platform for my thoughts and feelings about the world and any comments that readers might like to share.
There are still a few of us left on the net. Most blog writers came from that yesteryear when the net was about community and fellowship, and global friendship. There’s not many around these days who can remember what it was like back then. Many of my old blogging friends are no longer with us today.
The net has been kidnapped by a relatively small group of huge corporates that now control it. Their sole purpose is to make money, and their customers are not you or I, but other giant corporations that pay them for vast advertising space.
They have changed our world and they have been totally free to do so, with little or no effective regulatory curbs.* They have become so powerful they control governments.
Yahoo’s “Find a Friend,” died a death many moons ago. Replacing it are a myriad of so-called dating sites, corporate owned, or by the mafia-style gangs who operate on them. Photos and descriptions of cute women or good-looking men, hide the real criminals who work these sites. They coin vast sums by stealth and false pretences from lonely folk just seeking love and companionship. This, besides the grotesque fees charged for membership of these places, and the inevitable advertising revenues that accompany them.
“Enshittification” is an apt description for what has become of the internet today. Capitalism has gone berserk within it. There is no longer any sense of community. One has only to see what Facebook and Twitter, among other social media platforms, have become in the last two decades to comprehend the sheer enshittification that corporate greed has imposed on us via the ‘net’.
If you drive up the M6 motorway today, you’ll not see many old articulated trailers in farmer’s fields. Back in 1959, one farmer thought he had himself a winner. He was, perhaps, short-sighted. He never realised that in a few years time he would be superseded by one mammoth global advertising hoarding, known as the internet.
*Reading this link shows just how ineffective most government internet regulations are today.