Back when the world was young and the Internet still held lots of promise, and I was still stupid enough to read Wired (this would have been about 1994 or so, for those of you keeping track of these things), I stumbled on a Backlash column that said, basically, the information superhighway (gag me with a fork) was a big fat joke:
All the headlines about the digital, interactive, 500-channel, multi-megamedia blow-your-socks-off future are pure hype. Yes, all the wild Wall Street, through-the-roof, Crazy Eddie, cornucopia, shout-it-out-loud promo jobs are pure greed. It’s all a joke.
It’s now official. I’m announcing the beginning of convergence backlash. There will be no convergence. There will be no 500-channel future. There will be no US$3 trillion mother of all industries. There will be no virtual sex. There will be no infobahn. None of it – at least not the way you’ve been reading about it.
Sure the technologies are real. Digital compression and digi-tal phone lines are real. Those 100-MIPS micros are real. Multimedia and high-speed networks are real. In fact, the technology is so real that it’s almost obvious. Unfortunately, the businesses to exploit these technologies are anything but obvious.
The item itself is more about the topological and technological realities of cable vs. POTS as a method of driving bandwidth into the home, and it was more or less accurate in 1994. What’s weird is that it’s still accurate today — Telus still isn’t in the business of providing video on demand, and Shaw isn’t really in the business of providing dial tone (notwithstanding recent forays into that particular biz-ness*). While both are manifestly in the business of providing ridiculously cheap loss-leading consumer-grade bandwidth, the convergence we all expected to happen hasn’t happened yet. And it’s a decade later! Moreover, there’s no sign it’s going to happen anytime soon; I think most people have figured that out. Every time I hear someone talk about VoD or streaming HDTV or whatever delivered over broadband, and about how the technology to make this work is “just around the corner,” I think to myself: It was just around the corner in 1994, in 1997, in 2001…
(We did up with the 200+ channel universe, but what no one had predicted was that most of those 200 channels would suck. Hard.)
Apparently, “turning the corner” means the same thing for fans of convergence as it does for fans of questionable foreign policy adventures. And you plan to have that insurgency under control when, precisely? Right around the time the OC-192 lands on my doorstep, and doesn’t cost more than $80/month. Got it. I’ll get right on holding my breath. And really, how reliable is your Internet connection? Mine’s pretty good, but I freely admit that while Shaw periodically goes down on me (on average, once or twice a month that I notice, for fairly long periods (like, more than 2 hours)), I’ve yet to pick up my phone and not get a dial tone**. Ever. I mean, in my entire life. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, because I know it does, but really, when was the last time your landline phone didn’t work?
Nothing ever really changes. And it seems like we’re doomed to repeat the last decade over and over again. Remember the Communications Decency Act, and the other unconstitutional legislative piles of crud that were foisted onna Innernet by Congress and well-meaning politicians pandering to a paranoid and hysterical electorate? Guess what! It’s back:
The Utah governor is deciding whether to sign a bill that would require Internet providers to block Web sites deemed pornographic and that could also target e-mail providers and search engines.
Late Wednesday night, the Utah Senate approved controversial legislation that would create an official list of Web sites with publicly available material found to be “harmful to minors.” Internet providers in Utah must offer their customers a way to disable access to sites on the list or face felony charges.
No word on whether “unplug your cable” counts as an approved method of blocking sites deemed pornographic. There’s also no word on whether this is Yet Another Opening Battle in the Looming War on Obscenity, now prosecuted by those brilliant guys who brought you the war on terrah. Jesus, my head hurts.
How can we make 2005 more like 1994? We’ve already got a pundit class announcing the end of something as we know it (back then: broadcasting and telephones; today: journalism). We’ve got scary government regulators lurking provocatively in the shadows, like the Russian army, waiting to pounce and kick the shit out of everyone (back then: porn and privacy; today: porn, privacy, and political speech). We’ve got piles of people crowding onto the network at a seemingly exponential rate (which is confusing, because you’d think we’d eventually run out of morons), each of them convinced they’re doing something revolutionary and dramatic and life-changing. What else do we need to turn back the clock and really re-live Internet hype once more? Oh! Oh! I know! Let’s fight the crypto wars all over again! It’ll be so retro, and cool, and we can all feel like a persecuted minority once more, and shout “cyber rights NOW!” like it means something, and.. oh, never mind. I don’t have the energy***.
And here I was, naive enough to think that we’d reached the point where the network might just be a tool, no more, no less. Bah.
* I freely admit to being intrigued by this service and would like to know more about it, assuming they ever get it out of Calgary. Unlimited long distance and my phone system for $55/month on top of my existing cable bills? w00t, baby, w00t.
** Assuming, of course, that I’ve paid my bill.
*** My tentative list of names for the blog that will inevitably follow Under a Blackened Sky: “Wanker With a Weblog,” “Digital Curmudgeon,” and “Get the Fuck Offa My Network, You Arriviste Punks.”