Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Web We Have to Save

Have you noticed that the web seems to have changed in the last few years?  Do you feel that it's become more of a broadcast medium where you consume (often by passively watching) pre-prepared content, than a place where you used to go exploring for content. Canadian/Iranian author and blogger, Hossein Derakhshan, who was imprisoned in Iran for 6 years and recently released, has written a thought provoking article called "The Web We Have to Save". His incarceration enabled him to view todays web with fresh eyes since he was denied Internet access for 6 years. He believes that the web has become much more passive and that, for example, your Facebook news feed encourages you to merely "like" things, whereas previously by blogging and actively creating links to other webpages you could explain the relationships between ideas and their significance to you.
Hossein recognises that the web content you view is increasingly being curated for you, often by algorithms, which he and others call "the Stream". He says "the Stream, mobile applications, and moving images: They all show a departure from a books-internet toward a television-internet. We seem to have gone from a non-linear mode of communication — nodes and networks and links — toward a linear one, with centralization and hierarchies. The web was not envisioned as a form of television when it was invented. But, like it or not, it is rapidly resembling TV: linear, passive, programmed and inward-looking." 
As someone who has been using the web since the mid 1990s I can see where Hossein is coming from. But I also recognise that for many people who are not writers, journalists, academics, or are politically active, the web has become just a means by which they watch TV and movies, listen to music, read the equivalent of a never ending personalised magazine, and exchange photos with their friends. It is perhaps the web's great strenght that it can operate in both these modes.