… a strong case can be made that the internet … doesn’t actually make economic sense; it’s being propped up by a set of financial gimmickry with a distinct resemblance to smoke and mirrors; and when those go away — and they will — much of what makes the internet so central a part of pop culture will go away as well. […] It’s probably necessary to repeat here that the reasons for this are economic, not technical. Every time I’ve discussed the hard economic realities that make the internet’s lifespan in the deindustrial age roughly that of a snowball in Beelzebub’s back yard, I’ve gotten a flurry of responses fixating on purely technical issues. Those issues are beside the point. No doubt it would be possible to make something like the internet technically feasible in a society on the far side of the Long Descent, but that doesn’t matter; what matters is that the internet has to cover its operating costs, and it also has to compete with other ways of doing the things that the internet currently does.
It’s a source of wry amusement to me that so many people seem to have forgotten that the internet doesn’t actually do very much that’s new. Long before the internet, people were reading the news, publishing essays and stories, navigating through unfamiliar neighborhoods, sharing photos of kittens with their friends, ordering products from faraway stores for home delivery, looking at pictures of people with their clothes off, sending anonymous hate-filled messages to unsuspecting recipients, and doing pretty much everything else that they do on the internet today. For the moment, doing these things on the internet is cheaper and more convenient than the alternatives, and that’s what makes the internet so popular. If that changes — if the internet becomes more costly and less convenient than other options — its current popularity is unlikely to last.
With the follow up:
Last week’s post on the impending decline and fall of the internet fielded a great many responses. That was no surprise, to be sure; nor was I startled in the least to find that many of them rejected the thesis of the post with some heat. Contemporary pop culture’s strident insistence that technological progress is a clock that never runs backwards made such counterclaims inevitable. …
(This blog is certainly in the ‘counterclaim’ camp, and provocation of this radicality is a huge stimulus to get on with it …)