What Has The Internet Ever Done For Us?


As we now know, with the full acceptance of the internet came a great unshackling of information and inevitably, the rise of disinformation that gave us Russian meddling, whistleblowers, Cambridge Analytica and several disastrously compromised leadership contests. The latest heroes to be turned into villains are social media influencers, upon whom advertisers pounced because they were seemingly keeping it real in a media-slick world. And, just as parasites kill their hosts and move on, the advertisers showered them with money until they they were corrupted.

Recently, someone called Tifforellie based in the middle of nowhere posted a photo of her motorcycle accident and is now frantically trying to tell people she didn’t fake it. But the lighting, the pose and that product placement water bottle…well, you’d have to be very stupid indeed to think this was real. Hotels and other hospitality providers are starting to turn their backs on social influencers, who having taken the bait from advertisers are now losing their cachet. Suddenly they go on the list of UK/US-manufactured evils like big pharma and food you have to eat with your hands.

But we sometimes forget that the reality of daily internet use is sensational and transformative. Handcuffed to the attic in my old terraced house, I sweated through summers writing books and visiting reference libraries. Writing involved heavy lifting and heavy reading. I waded through tons of extraneous material to find the odd nugget of information I could use. Although the World Wide Web was a British invention, the internet became a gigantic American Dewey Decimal System, making it easy for anyone to use.

While writing a new novel, I became stuck on a plot point I simply couldn’t solve, so I threw it into the web and up came a crazy fact that I would never have found in textbooks. For a long time there were too few online resources for deep research (academic friends plan their years around the capricious availability of international archives, plus you have to learn other languages to benefit from them).

I don’t use my devices for too many trivialities (perhaps I should). Instead I carry on me 2,000 books, subscriptions to the New Statesman, the NY and London Times, Netflix (their documentary strand is excellent – try ‘Dirty Money’), BBC and Sky, a vast music library, podcasts, films, hundredweights of notes, all Cloud-based. I’m finally free to work anywhere, just at a time when the unelected 1% have decided to start closing our borders.

What they can’t do – yet – is close down the world that has opened in cyberspace.

17 comments on “What Has The Internet Ever Done For Us?”

  1. Brooke says:

    Confusing post–confusing “internet” infrastructure, commericial applications such as search, digital gadetry, capitalist consumption, etc. We’ll overlook the slur on Elizabeth Feinler’s team’s work. If you found a crazy fact that aided your breakthrough, thank the hundreds of enthusiasts (often low paid or no pay students) who in the early days built search technology.

  2. Dave Kearns says:

    AS Brooke alluded, the Intenet is way older than the Web, and was an American (ARPANET) invention. Research and sharing on the net also long predate the Web (Gopher, Archie, News, et al). What the web added was pretty fonts, pictures, and propaganda.

  3. Martin Tolley says:

    It’s certainly not helped the English cricket team.

  4. admin says:

    Uh-oh, I’ve wandered onto an alien planet.
    Look, the interweb is the THING that lives inside your COMPUTER. But I do remember that Arpanet was just a 4-way link-up. This is going to be one of those Tessler-Edison conversations! Actually no, because the tech doesn’t interest me so much as the creative applications.

  5. Brooke says:

    “… tech doesn’t interest me so much as the creative applications.” Are you the Christopher Fowler who tweeted “Netflix signs up pair who created Game of Thrones’ says all press everywhere. No mention of its actual author.” My point: envisioning the technologies required a massive amount of creativity by a diverse community of scientists whose names everyone conveniently forgets; it took an even larger collaborative community to realize the vision. Then along came the commercial-minded who slapped some paint on the thing and hyped their versions. And we know who they are.

    As Will Roger said: “when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

  6. Ian Luck says:

    As ane fule kno, the Internet is kept in a small box with a light on it. If you don’t believe me, watch ‘The I.T. Crowd’.

  7. Peter Tromans says:

    In the picture, never mind the bottle, look at the two people and their pose. Fall of your bike and, if you are lucky enough that someone helps, it will be mouth-to mouth from a severely overweight hell’s angel with halitosis. And vice versa if you are providing the first-aid.

  8. Helen Martin says:

    I’m with Chris’ sense if not details. I have no knowledge of tech in any way – I can only just manage a posting on a blog site and a reply to an email- but research can take you to so many lovely places with documents you would never see otherwise. If it weren’t for a few things like that I would disconnect from the internet, throw out the little box with its light, and retreat into my experiments in ink production.
    My grammar and spelling have suffered as well as my thought processing. In this era of faked news I hear such a lack of interest in factual details that I can only turn away muttering.
    That all sounds very down. Ignore it, please. I’ll probably – possibly – sound more cheerful later.

  9. Ian Luck says:

    I’ve had a couple of motorcycle accidents – and there was blood – and I always wore protective gear. That girl is in dungarees, and is covered in what is obviously brushed on dirt with no tattered bits of flesh or areas of bone showing. If she was in an accident, where is her helmet? Her head is unharmed. Maybe she posted it to be viewed by people who think that the road surface is made of marshmallows and candyfloss. (It so isn’t, if you were wondering). Sorry, love, but a great many of us didn’t come in with the tide.

  10. eggsy says:

    Like writing, then printing, then movable type, t’interweb has vastly increased the ability of people to communicate. And again, we wonder if we will find anything worthwhile to say! Same again, only more so.
    It reminds me again of admin’s favourite, the crazy rainbow lady. Her comments were clearly inspired by others (a key giveaway was the mention of moonbows -not a common sight).
    Or again, I recently came across the Jade Helm conspiracy theories of 2015, which are well worth looking up if you fancy a laugh/want a reason to run and hide from the world. So how do we get people to prioritise critical thinking, judging reliability of sources and so forth? I’m tempted to suggest something a bit far out, like education. Although previous attempts have not been entirely successful. And it does tend to limit the effectiveness of advertising.

  11. Peter Tromans says:

    Eggsy – as I was reading your post. I thought education! And two lines later, you proposed the radical idea.

    Do you sometimes think what a nuisance democracy is to politicians, but how they can circumvent the problem by making the public as badly educated and uncritical in their thought as possible? Add a good dose of political correctness that blocks the few who could from challenging them and the most useless leaders have close to a free hand.

    That’s my conspiracy theory. (and my reduced education above: fall offffff your bike)

  12. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    ‘making the public as badly educated and uncritical in their thought as possible?’

    Have you read Fahrenheit 451?

  13. Peter Tromans says:

    Cornelia – yes, so long ago that I’d close to forgotten it.

  14. eggsy says:

    …and yet those warnings in literature are never taken seriously. 1984 being the other big one. The problem is, tyrannies start off lying to the public, then lying to themselves. You may be able swear the sky is green, but when you take on some other natural laws you discover they are non-negotiable. If society is lucky, there is total economic collapse and regime change, with only a few thousand caught in the violence (and maybe tens of thousands starving). And then the government is charge again.

  15. SimonB says:

    What has the internet ever done for us? Surely an infinite supply of cat videos is worth the minor shortcomings mentioned above…

  16. Wayne Mook says:

    We always had fake news, propaganda and just blatant lies and statistics, a lot of the conspiracy theories follow the same old paths. I grew up in the cold war, I was taught Lamarckism and how wrong it was, no one said why, until I later found out it was it was it was seen as the main evolutionist theory of the USSR, or so I read in a book. As for the undermining of British politics Zinoviev letter anyone? You can always trust the Daily Mail, luckily a Viscount Rothermere is still at the helm. So no fear of fascist support from the 3rd best selling paper.

    I remember Janet & C-net too, using a dial-up acoustic modem to get on a text based MUD. Trying to get onto other sites could be a right pain, I had a big print out of telephone numbers to get certain sites. How we were amazed by such graphics as Bambi vs. Godzilla.

    The WWW protocols have helped link up the place and search it, try to Google stuff without it. Misinformation is also easier to check as well as disseminate, but we can check the track record of sources easier.

    Thinking is a great help in working out what is true, and I think the net helps this.


  17. Cynthia Marshall says:

    Oooo must step in – education has deliberately stopped critical thinking, so please hold no hope there. Since introduction of league tables, followed by rote learning, actual thinking is minimal. One of the most disturbing things my students (16-18) used to say “We were told This is the question, this is the answer – learn it” They never had the opportunity to understand why. Thus loosing the wonderful buzz we all get when we actually make a connection, We are hot-wired for curiosity and discovery, alas this has gone. Who wants critical, thoughtful people in a democracy?

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