When Al Gore made the infamous and outlandish claim that he invented the internet in 1999, it was an instant classic faux pas. But that was a simpler time, a time when Napster was kind of a big deal, wiretapping wasn’t government-sanctioned, and videos and pictures didn’t go viral.
If someone had told you back then that something was about to “go viral,” you probably would have assumed it was Ebola or mad cow disease. Things have certainly changed since the year of the Y2K scare, but have they really changed for the better?
We live in a brave new world of insatiable content consumption. Social media has overtaken all other forms of media to become the undisputed, dominant news outlet on the planet. It reigns supreme, and we are its humble servants.
Not only is it a fixture in our daily lives, but also most people can’t seem to go a day without updating their Facebook status or tweeting sweet nothings in the Twitterverse. And if they do, they may start to experience symptoms of withdrawal. In this way and in others, the so-called Web 2.0 is perhaps both a blessing and a curse.
But maybe it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Maybe we’ve strayed from the path. In the Information Age, we are all natural born “netizens.” The internet is our virtual home away from home. And though it is virtual, that makes it no less vital. Having said that, there are some critical questions we must carefully consider. Can it be more than what it has become? Was it meant to be more? Have we created a monster?
Once upon a time, Web 2.0 was regarded as an instrument of enlightenment. It was supposed to take humanity to new heights. Instead, it is entirely possible humanity has sunk to new depths. I look at Web 2.0 like I look at Anakin Skywalker. If that sounds strange, allow me to explain.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, Anakin was supposed to be the one to bring balance to the Force, and we all know how well that turned out. (Who could forget those forgettable prequels?) But where Anakin failed, his son Luke, succeeded. What I’m getting at is Web 2.0 can give birth to Web 3.0, and Web 3.0 can give us a new hope to bring balance to the internet. See what I did there?
With the NSA, MI5, and the GCHQ running amok, nothing is off limits or sacred anymore. Indeed, their reach seems to have far exceeded their grasp. They have so much data they don’t even know what to do with all of it. Their unfettered mass surveillance has taken on a disturbing Orwellian quality, and the Draconian punishments to come may not fit the crimes. In the guise of national security, liberty and privacy have taken a backseat.
Censorship has also begun to rear its ugly head; China’s Great Firewall has set a dangerous precedent. At what point does gathering intelligence justify such an egregious invasion of privacy? Edward Snowden obviously felt strongly about it. Was he wrong to leak the skeletons in the NSA’s closet? Should Snowden be branded a traitor or hailed as a whistleblower? To this writer’s way of thinking, it’s looking more and more like the latter holds more water.
All of a sudden, the internet has these vicious watch dogs roaming around without a leash and wreaking havoc, putting a muzzle on every perceived threat, however miniscule. Make no mistake about it: they’re out to get you. If you’re on their radar, you’d best tread lightly. To counter this insidious and intrusive Orwellian movement, we need a Utopian paradigm shift. We need Web 3.0 to strike back at the evil empire.
The third generation of the web is the next step in the internet’s evolution, and ultimately it may be the key to its salvation. Ethereum’s ecosystem and others like IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) could wind up playing a pivotal role in the internet iteration to come. Web 3.0 should be decentralized, private, secure, and free of censorship. Blockchain platforms like Ethereum’s can give developers the tools and freedom necessary to usher in a new age of pixelated prosperity.
In the proposed peer-to-peer global network, there would be no central point of failure and also no central authority infringing on your right to privacy. If that sounds too good to be true, that’s because it might be. In truth, it’s hard to believe intelligence agencies would relinquish their control without a fight. They have a sizable stake in this internet stakeout, after all.
Be that as it may, the web doesn’t belong to them; it belongs to the people. And the time has come to take it back. We’re talking about ubiquitous connectivity, distributed databases, and more acronyms than that Robin Williams scene from Good Morning, Vietnam. APIs and IOTs, and AI, oh my! The Artificial Intelligence issue opens up a whole new can of worms, but let’s table that discussion for another time.
A few years before Gore’s gaffe, renowned cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow drafted his own version of the Declaration of Independence, in which he championed the sovereignty of cyberspace. Barlow is no Thomas Jefferson, but I believe the Framers of the Constitution would approve of Barlow’s message, assuming they were brought up to speed.
Like our Founding Fathers before them, the architects and pioneers of the internet envisioned a better world than the one we’ve created. To this point, their dream has gone unrealized, but that doesn’t mean the dream is dead. It may have become a nightmare, but sooner or later we all wake up from nightmares.