Pardon me if I appear to be less concerned that others over the End of the World Wide Web. I may be conditioned due to the fact that I’ve seen this event unfold once before, and while I still look back to that time in my life with a wistful gleam in my eye, I’ve come to learn that change is not something to feared and shunned, but something to look at with anticipation – because you never know what will happen.
Once upon a teenager.
The 1980’s might not be one of the most important decades in the scope of human history, but that determination may not be ours to make. When the Wright Brothers first took to wing on the prairies of Kitty Hawk, did they realize they had ushered in the age of flight? When Guttenberg first pressed a copy of the Holy Bible into German using a press made of individual blocks of letters and symbols, did he realize that mankind had taken a quantum leap forward? Perhaps. Visionaries tend to “think big.” So before we judge the 1980’s for giving us Mork and Mindy, the Space Shuttle, and Cindy Lauper – we might stop to wonder if history will judge it as the Dawn of the Digital Age, or even the first catalyst towards the end of individual nation-states into a Global Government (Beware the Tri-Lateral Commission).
When the Internet was something for Universities, NASA, and the Department of Defense, there was the Community Bulletin Board. At first, they were just individual little machines with nothing more than a message server and a discussion thread, but quickly they grew into a single web of interconnected little machines that could broadcast “electronic messages” to users across whole continents, and suddenly every geek kid with a Commodore, a TRS-80, or an Apple made the same discovery from within the twilight of a monitor lit bedroom – “We are not alone.” My own bulletin board was passed to me when the owner moved away, and I did my best to keep it going. Having been online for almost 5 years, it was one of the “Big Three” in the area for people to call and connect with one another. I bought a second modem, then a third, and a fourth. My hobby went from something I could fund with change I found in the vinyl cushions of my Chevy Nova to a black hole of cash where money went in and was never to be seen again. I sold my stereo one month, and I maxed out my only credit card in half a year. I was destitute and was faced with an impossible decision. Late one evening, I posted a login message informing the endless line of callers that by the end of the month, the system would have to go offline. I could not afford any more debt and the phone company was going to shut down the lines. A user emailed me and offered to give me his coin jar if I would pick it up and roll it myself. I drove an hour and with a smile and a handshake, took his mason jar of coins – Twenty seven dollars and some to spare. When I got home, I decided that I would reward him for his effort – his name would appear in bright gold and he would have access to one of the modem lines set aside JUST FOR HIM until the site went down for good.
The day after I announced this, I had about ten more people interested in how much it would cost to use this “premier line”. I simply asked that they give what charitable considerations they could afford. One user mailed me a check for one hundred dollars, another one shipped me a hard drive. “Maybe you can sell it and use the money for the site.” Another user bought it for fifty bucks (At the time, that was quite a deal for TEN WHOLE MEGS). A few days later, I got a very interesting email. Someone from Canada asked how many active users my board had on any given day. I told him the phones were constantly busy. He asked for my email address and in a few weeks, I got a Gravis Ultrasound in the mail with a note: “For review.” It was the first wavetable sound card I had ever heard, and I was up most of the night playing midi files. I installed the card and added a new section on the board: “Sponsors”. I listed all the hardware the system had and included any donated equipment. Near as I could tell, I was responsible for the purchase of six Ultrasound cards. Fast forward a year or so, and I was getting donations from users enough to afford most of the cost of the bulletin board. It would still be online today had it not been for the unseen predator lurking in the shadows – the internet. I left the board online as long as people continued to call, but by the end of the 1980’s, the periods of inactivity started to grow. Rather than allow the site to fade out into an abandoned husk, I decided to shut it down. I wrote a farewell message and gave the site 30 days. One month later, I logged in, read my messages, and booted the server down. I cried a little bit, I don’t mind admitting. In the attic of my father’s house sits a dusty 486 on an old aluminum desk – untouched by human hands since that last day in December of 1988.
Once upon a point here
Sorry for the detour, but I had a point way up at the top of the page, and that point is, “don’t sweat it.” That’s right – all this just to say to you, “don’t sweat it.” You see, the internet is sinking like a ruptured ocean liner, but not everyone will die. As the banner revenue dries like a desert gulch, websites will go down. Internet Service Companies (ISPs) will start seeing a drop in their customer base and they too will begin to notice that “hey, there’s water coming into my stateroom.” And believe me people, if you learn anything about Western Culture, learn this: Your government will not lift a finger to help you until the steerage compartments are already under water and someone in First Class notices a humid stink in the air. As smaller ISPs drown amid their own above-market hosting fees, other ISPs will see the predicament and will realize, “hey if we have no clients, then we have no jobs!” – either the federal government will step in (this is the Golden Calf they have been searching for: a viable excuse to tax the internet), or they will adjust their hosting fees to better reflect our post-dotcom economy. We can hope that may happen, but in the meantime, never under-estimate the ability for people to care, and to offer whatever measure of consideration they can afford, to bail water out of the lifeboats. In spite of what I’ve learned about humanity from Ultima Online (bastards, all), part of me still has faith in mankind.
Certainly large portals like Blue’s News and Old Man Murray might still find prices to be far too high to support a hobby, but the niche (i.e. less popular) sites will certainly find themselves scooped up from the frigid waters and pulled to safety, just as long as we promise to not let go.