Simpler Times

Does anyone besides me miss the good old days of the Internet? I’m talking about before the Internet became this simultaneously wonderful and hideous thing that we all depend upon while loving and hating it at the same time. It used to be so simple. Now it’s a bloated mess buried in intrusive advertising and spyware, and infested with no-gooders who want to steal everything from my credit card data to my grandchildren. It’s rather like a gigantic city. It’s mostly safe as long as you know what neighborhoods to avoid. But even then the equivalent of digital street gangs slip into the good neighborhoods to steal your stuff when you’re not looking.

Win98SE

Back In The Day…
I made my first baby steps into the online world back in 1999. I had a laptop with Windows 98SE and Bellsouth dial-up Internet access. It was fun. I made new friends. I traveled the “Information Highway” and discovered that the world was becoming much smaller due to being able to access images and information from all over Planet Earth. And I discovered the wonders of email. How cool is it to send mail without having to lick-and-stick a stamp and walk out to the mailbox?

Truck stops started getting into the act when they figured out that a lot of us old truckers were buying laptops. Suddenly the restaurants had a dial-up plug at every table. I could surf the web whilst chomping on a cheeseburger. And then various news outlets started providing websites (some free, some not) so I could read the news of the day without dumping fifty cents for a copy of USA Today. It was just the damndest thing. I had the world at my fingertips.

yahoogeocitieslogo

Later on I took the next big step and created my own website. It was one of those tiny little sites hosted by Geocities, which soon became Yahoo!-Geocities, and eventually just Yahoo!. Pictures of my cats, stories of my travels around the country, and pictures of cool stuff and pretty scenery. In the beginning the pictures were shot with my old Polaroid and then scanned into my computer. But when digital cameras finally had high enough resolution to take a picture larger than a postage stamp I spent a small fortune for a whopping 4 megapixel camera. Don’t remember for sure what brand it was but I think it was a Canon.

And remember the guestbooks on those early websites? Conversations could fill screen after screen. What fun it was. I actually earned a small bit of notoriety back then because people enjoyed the images of places they’d never seen. I also discovered that I was pretty good at commenting on the issues of the day (no one was more surprised at this than I was). People enjoyed my “rants” as they were called back then. At one point I was getting a few hundred hits a day and this amazed me. Yes, other sites got more but hey I was having a ball.

The real world eventually intruded. I was covered up with work and just didn’t have the time or energy anymore. Then I took violently ill and was out of work for awhile. By then I was using paid hosting and just could not afford to keep it. So – bye bye website.

But Now…
Fast-forward to today. I was away for several years and holy shit did things go through some changes. Yep, I now have this little blog (since 2018). Traffic is minimal but I enjoy it. I never intended to be famous anyway. But what a hot mess the Internet has become. Yes there are online tools now that we wouldn’t have dreamed of 20 years ago. I can use DoorDash and have a big BBQ dinner delivered to my door (just finished one a few minutes ago). I can buy movies, music and TV shows online and download them to my computer. I can buy digital books. I can play games, buy damn-nearly anything imaginable, or lose an hour snooping around IMDB to see who that guy was that played the uncredited villain in some obscure B-grade horror movie. And of course no more dial-up. Nowadays many eateries and other businesses have free WiFi. And home WiFi is as common as a TV set. Just log on and do your thing.

And smart phones! Good grief how cool is to have a gadget in my pocket that serves as a phone, digital camera, flashlight, calculator, image editor, GPS, word processor, a library full of books, food delivery service… well you get the picture. But to have all that you have to grant Google, Amazon and others access to an awful lot of your data. Too much, in my opinion.

WSJ_PayWall

However…
But there is also a ton of fuckery hiding behind every tree. Our personal information is harvested, bought and sold. It can be difficult to just read an online article because of the intrusive ads that clog the screen. Ad-blockers still work in many cases. But more and more websites are blocking access unless you turn it off. I wouldn’t mind if the ads weren’t so pervasive, and many of them contain trackers that track (hence the name) your online activity. Screw them. Post some honest, non-intrusive ads and I’ll visit your site. Otherwise, I don’t need you. Pop-up blockers don’t work nearly as well as in the past because smart programmers find ways around them. Other websites sit behind paywalls and you either pay up or go elsewhere. And the aforementioned no-gooders are constantly busy looking for a way to slip past your security software and rob you blind.

And oh god the politics and conspiracy theories! I have never in my life seen so much unmitigated bullshit. The political left and right are always telling us how the other side is out to steal our freedoms or tax us into oblivion. And then there are sites like InfoWars that embrace (or create) every nutball conspiracy theory imaginable (HAARP, chemtrails, alien abductions, etc). The Evangelicals are telling us that Covid-19 is all because we “tolerate” the LGBTQ community, while online Imams tell us we deserve to die because we’re not just like them. Hell’s bells even the flat-Earthers are out there telling us we’re stupid because we think we live on a big blue ball.

Google, Twitter, Facebook and others scrape us clean of anything resembling privacy whilst meddling in our search results and online activity so we see what they want us to see. And no that isn’t a conspiracy theory. Just about all of the so-called “tech-giants” have gotten spanked at various times for such violations. Not so much in the USA but at least the EU has taken them to task. The US government isn’t doing nearly enough in that regard. And why aren’t they? Ask the K Street lawyers who lobby our legislators and slip untold millions under the table. The left wing and the right wing are attached to the same bird. Even YouTube, once a boon for those who wished to speak their minds to the world, is subject to Google’s politics. Google bought them in 2006 and has applied all manner of censorship to what was briefly a bastion of free speech. Ask anyone who had a pro-gun channel on YouTube.

RansomWareSkull

And then there are the ransomware attacks. Hackers manage to get a virus into your computer, and the virus blocks access to your files. Of course the hackers get total access to everything in your machine. And unless you follow their instructions and pay the ransom (usually in Bitcoin) your data and probably your hard drive are lost. In many cases non-payment means sensitive data gets posted online for all to see and be used against the victim. These are not isolated incidents. This happens somewhere in the world just about every day, often multiple times per day.

Finally…
Two things I truly hate are needless complexity and drama. The Internet in recent years has served up monstrous helpings of both. And I for one am sick of it. But what does one do? Nowadays without the Internet you become a Neanderthal living in a cave. Think for a moment what you’d give up if you ceased all access to the Internet. I find myself both resentful and grateful for it. Of course those who never had it don’t miss it. My mom as of this writing is a spry and lively 99 years old. She has no understanding of the online world. I’ll admit it was fun one evening when we were chatting about such things and I told my phone to “call Mom.” She looked at me like I’m stupid until her phone started ringing. At that point she told me in no uncertain terms to cut that mess out. I quickly complied.

Yes, great things have been made possible via the Internet. But at least as much evil as good has been done with it as well. What does one do? Damifino.

Captcha

PS: And whoever invented CAPTCHA should be tarred, feathered, and hung by the short hairs. I don’t care how many images include a bridge!!! Go to Hell and take your bridges with you!

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