The Internet We Created

From NSFW (But Then Again, Safety is Overrated):

The arrival of digital technology created a “clearing event” much like the social upheaval of the 1960s, and in the wake of that clearing event there would once again be an opportunity for the exploration of explicit sexuality in cinema.

But this time, the opportunity would not be driven by the laissez-faire policies of the MPAA, or new legal freedoms. This time it would be driven by technology that affected everything from how people engaged with the camera in their own personal lives, to the economics of scale for production, marketing, and distribution of media.

Once again this “clearing event” would create new opportunities and optimism that the cinematic language used to present sexuality could finally evolve, and once again there would be a brief flowering of experimentalism.

But as in the period of 1969 to 1975, this new openness and experimentalism wouldn’t last. In fact, by the end of the decade, the Internet had adopted a culture around sexuality that in some ways is arguably more conservative than anything found in traditional media.

From Metafilter, via Alan Jacob’s wonderful More than 95 Theses:

Every day at my job I helped people just barely survive. Forget trying to form grass roots political activism by creating a society of computer users, forget trying to be the ‘people’s university’ and create a body of well informed citizens. Instead I helped people navigate through the degrading hoops of modern online society, fighting for scraps from the plate, and then kicking back afterwards by pretending to have a farm on Facebook (well, that is if they had any of their 2 hours left when they were done). What were we doing during the nineties? What were we doing during the boom that we’ve been left so ill served during the bust? No one seems to know. They come in to our classes and ask us if we have any ideas, and I do, but those ideas take money, and political will, and guts, and the closer I get to graduation the less and less I suspect that any of those things exist.

Maybe a year ago I was chatting/emailing/talking with Matt Frost, and he said (from memory, and paraphrasing), “We going to look back at the 90s and realize we let it all slip through our fingers.”

That’s pretty funny; Matt Frost sounding like a character from The Big Chill, or like on of the hippie hold-outs whose land I used to hunt on in the Colstin Valley in Southern Oregon.

Two things prompt the above thoughts:

1) I’m working on a response to James Poulos’ recent What are Women For? and to the reception his piece received, here at The League and around the ‘Net.

2) I found out that a draft of my own “I’m not really into black chicks.” that I sent to several of my friends got swept up in their spam folders.

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9 thoughts on “The Internet We Created

  1. Even towards the end of the 90’s I felt that the decade had been a wasted opportunity. It was the period between the Cold War and the War on Terror. It was the initial boom of the Information Age. It seems like we could have done so much. I distinctly remember telling a friend in the late 90’s that if you don’t bring about change yourself, then someone will bring change to you and it probably won’t be what you want.

    When I woke up the morning of 9/11/01 all I could feel was sadness because I saw that someone had brought the change to us and it was going to be hell for the whole world.

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  2. I still don’t know what the internet *MEANS*… though I think WebMD and Wikipedia point us in the right direction.

    (I’m going to free associate in the hopes that one of my vague intuitions comes bubbling through.)

    Part of the issue is that even when film had the most license that it ever had, how many people were making films? By comparison, how many people were just sitting there drinking the films in?

    The internet, it seems to me, is having *HUGE* numbers of people create. Writing every day. Submitting short films to youtube every day. Podcasting every day. Tweeting, sigh, every day.

    Between 1969 and 1975, how much money/equipment did you need to shoot and then edit and then publish a 10 minute film? Even on a shoestring?

    Off the top of my head, I’m guessing that to make a 10 minute film today is something that most folks might be able to do for less than a grand (counting the computer, the camera)… and because of that, people do. Is it very good? No, of course not… but, once upon a time, it would have been completely out of their reach unless they knew a guy who knew a guy.

    When it comes to politics, I don’t know what the internet means yet either… though I think that we see hints from what China is doing with their censorship and from what is happening in the Middle East. (In this vein, I don’t think that it means as much for the US because we have always had something vaguely like free speech.)

    We’ve only had the internet for 20ish years. I don’t know what we ought to have expected by now.

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  3. “We’ve only had the internet for 20ish years. I don’t know what we ought to have expected by now.”

    I’m pretty much on the same page with Jaybird here.

    I’d say the “clearing event” has only just begun.

    In the 90s, the internet was far from ubiquitous. Most people didn’t even have a home computer, let alone internet access. Furthermore, a lot of folks who were actually online didn’t even comprehend what that meant (some of them still don’t… looks like they’re mostly in Congress).

    What the internet (and related technologies) has needed is a generation that’s never known a world without it.

    That’s what we have now, and I think we’re only just now starting to see the real impact.

    A storm’s been brewing. Some of us have been predicting its coming for a long time. I think the next ten years are going to be remembered as the decade when it finally arrived.



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    • “In the 90s, the internet was far from ubiquitous.”

      Remember DiVX?  This was a DVD player with a built-in modem; the DVDs for it were really cheap, and the player would phone home when you tried to play them.  You had a certain period after the first time you loaded the DVD during which you could watch it; after that, it was locked down.  People went nuts complaining about this; “oh, how can you expect me to dedicate a whole line to just this device, how can you expect me to pay for something and then not have it forever”.

      And now we have streaming video and online rentals, and Hulu and Netflix and etcetera.

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  4. And if you stand on the right hill outside Las Vegas and look westward with the right kind of eyes, you can see the place where the wave broke and started to roll back.

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  5. Also, I remember that Driver’s Education used to be a class that was actually taught in school, and you were expected to pass that class in order to graduate.  By the time I got into school this was long gone.

    I do, though, remember “computer class” in school, which was pretty much “here’s how to make a document in WordPerfect”.

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  6. even as an impressionable yungin’ at the time, part of me knew the intense booyah of the 90s was a bit much. i think doug rushkoff’s slow descent into semi-intelligible paranoia over the past 15 years is illustrative.

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