Way, way back in the almost prehistoric age of 1993, the Internet was barely in its infancy. Compared to its form today, the Internet of 1993 was practically at the zygote stage. As the elderly readers of this column may recall, gathering information mostly involved a building called a library, which stored information solely in hard-copy format (i.e. books).
This system had worked out pretty well for a few thousand years, as it became common for kings and rulers to build royal libraries for the sake of attracting scholars from near and far, which made it possible to have an educated middle class, and, with that, all the trappings of what we now call civilisation.
In the mid-90s, at about the same time as the introduction of Windows 95, things started to change. Although there were still very few people who had decent websites or information portals up, there only needed to be a few thousand such resources for the Internet to be bigger than most people’s local libraries.
A tipping point was then reached. Once the Internet started to contain more information than the average library, it started making more sense for researchers to make the Internet their first port of call. Most of the early Internet pages were built by nerds and hobbyists who were obsessed with their area of expertise, meaning that you could go on the Internet and effectively find entire books worth of information from digital libraries all around the world.
This made researching many times more efficient than it used to be. Early web browsers like Netscape, Northern Lights and Metacrawler allowed people to escape the nightmare of index cards and misshelved books. This made it possible, with technological enhancement, to learn many times faster than one otherwise could have done.
Then, something terrible happened. Someone realised that this unprecedented access to information was so valuable that you could start sticking advertisements on it, and people would still consume the medium. At this point, the televisionisation of the Internet began.
It was subtle at first. Just a “sponsored post” here and there, or a notice that the big banner ad underneath the header was now necessary owing to increasing bandwidth costs. But as the shekels rolled in, more and more people became attracted by promises of easy money, and started making websites specifically to put ads on them. When Google introduced AdSense in 2003, the floodgates were fully opened, and have remained so ever since.
In 2018, advertising on FaceBook and Google search is as intrusive as television, radio or newspaper media ever was. What was once a portal away from crass commercialism and the mindless pursuit of more money, the Internet has now mostly become a collection of billboards-for-rent. Websites such as VJM Publishing, that do not advertise apart from a list of links to our published books in the sidebar, are extremely rare.
Worst of all, the surge of advertiser money has seen the advent of mass censorship, as leery marketing executives put pressure on platform providers to make controversial speech less accessible so as to ensure their product is not associated with anything unfashionable. This has sent people who want access to quality information elsewhere.
The final result of this is that books are going to take over again. The Internet won’t go away, because it continues to fill an extremely useful niche in study and research, but people will start using it less for actual information (because of the ever-more intrusive ads), and more as an index through which quality information in the form of books can be found (which is ironically closer to its original purpose than it is today).
Because the Internet is so vast, it allows for tremendously specific books to be written and to be easily made available to readers, despite the ads. This new breed of books will be responsible for the resurgence in book readers over coming decades.
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