Side Note

We haven't learned anything about what the internet is for since 1996

In 1996, the Wall Street Journal published “The Year On The Net,” a nostalgia-inducing microsite intended to explain the mysterious complexities of the World Wide Web to the average joe. Wired’s Louise Matsakis resurfaced the site on Twitter, which features a FAQ section on “The Internet” that’s all too soberingly relatable: “Do I Have Privacy On-Line?” it asks. “Are My Kids Safe? How Do I Make Money?” It’s been nearly 22 years since this guide’s creation, and we’re still asking the same questions. The answers don’t seem to have changed much either.

All of the linked response pages have countless quotes and quips that could have easily come from some 2018-era thinkpiece on the state of the web. “While you sign on to the Internet and blithely zap and receive electronic mail, visit Web sites and bare your soul in on-line discussion groups, you are increasingly being watched and tracked,” wrote Gautam Naik in response to a question on privacy. “But the disturbing thing for privacy-seekers isn't just that you're on file on the Web. It's also that every move you make on the Internet can be followed, and the information gathered can be used against you.”

It’s almost as if you could chuck it into any article about Cambridge Analytica, Facebook, Google, or, honestly, any other large tech company from the last two decades? Somehow, the 1996-era guide only gets more eerie from there. “How Can I Find My Way?” the FAQ continues. “Is This Going to Get Easier? What Are They Talking About?” Then, of course, comes the kicker: “Do I Really Need to Do This?"

It’s a great question, especially for this modern hellscape we’re stuck in. When faced with Jordan Peterson, the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web,” Kanye tweets (also just tweets in general, tbh), incels, Pizzagate, whatever the hell The Storm is, cryptocurrency scammers, Cambridge Analytica, and everything else, what other response is there than: “Do I Really Need to Do This?"

Another great day to be online.