The internet has come a long way since Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web, turned on the first web server in Geneva on Christmas day 1990. Today, 2bn people are online; 800m of them are on Facebook. Every minute, 24 hours worth of video is uploaded to YouTube. Google, a company founded only 15 years ago, has a market capitalisation just short of $200bn and a mission statement that it intends “to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” – something no one thinks unlikely or even remarkable. We now bank, shop, communicate, work and date through the internet. The internet has come of age. It is as defining an achievement for humanity as the Enlightenment or the industrial revolution. But as the web’s youthful potential and teenage brashness give way to a more grown-up, complicated and multifaceted personality, our reaction to it has also changed. Our enthusiasm is tempered by a realisation that it is not simply an exciting force for good, as it was first seen. This year’s opening salvo of books about the internet does not laud web entrepreneurs or predict jetpacks and digital utopia. Instead, Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion and John Brockman’s collection of essays all soberly assess the current state of the internet and ask: are the changes the internet brings to our society and our human nature actually beneficial?
more from Ben Hammersley at the FT here.