Time to move on from cat videos?

19:44, Mar 29 2014
Samantha Hayes
CONSTANT SURFER: Presenter Samantha Hayes says the internet was always ‘‘something my brother mucked around with at home while I spent hours mucking around with my horse. As a teenager I remember being shown how to use chat rooms and spending hours communicating with people in neighbouring towns when I was supposed to be asleep.’’ Now she constantly searches the news websites throughout the day and has four email accounts.

Back when most office workers hacked away on typewriters and top-of-the-line computers were clunky white machines with tiny curved screens, an Oxford University engineering professor put forward a world-changing idea.

It was a "vague but exciting" proposal around information management, according to Sir Tim Berners-Lee's boss.

That historic 1989 proposal laid the groundwork for the uncontrollable cyber monster we now know as the internet, which celebrated its 25th birthday this month.

Tim Shadbolt
LEFT OUT: Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt swears he has never in his life searched for anything online. ‘‘I’m sort of like an enemy of the internet. I was never interested. I was right on the limit of my communication capabilities already.’’ He said cellphone and letters were enough for him. Shadbolt does sometimes feel left out.

It was an occasion marked by the formation of Kim Dotcom's Internet Party, which joined internet-focused political parties in Spain and Russia. Academic research shows political party membership has fallen around the world, replaced to large extent by internet activism but it's probably too soon to say whether politics will go the same way as almost-obsolete phone books, encyclopaedias, travel agents and conventional television.

Not to mention that newspapers around the world have suffered large losses in circulation as readers pick and choose their news from websites at no charge and classified advertising has gone digital on sites such as Trade Me.

While the internet has destroyed attention spans, is full of cat videos and has tempered heated debates at the pub - it's not as much fun when the answer is just a click away - it's also been integral in a number of revolutionary movements, especially the Green movement in Iran and the Arab Spring.


Oliver Driver
NO CATS: Actor Oliver Driver can’t remember the first thing he searched for online but remembers sitting down and being intimidated and not knowing what to do. ‘‘I’m not addicted to all of the internet. I’m not a big cat lookerer.’’ His first email address was oliverdriver@hotmail.com. ‘‘Which was cool because you could have your whole name. Without all the underscores and dashes.’’

But experts say it might now be time to grow up and think about "what this thing is".

Science Media Centre technology commentator Peter Griffin said the first 25 years had been a bit like "free love and happiness and peace on the internet. It's sort of worked but we've got to a point . . . There are going to be growing pains where we actually have to think like adults as opposed to teenagers."

He said there would be fights over control of data and a push to democratise the internet - this had already begun as countries such as Russia and China fought for more control over the largely US-dominated net.

Hilary Barry
RECIPES PLEASE: Journalist Hilary Barry remembers the days at TV3 when there was one computer with internet access and it sat there unused as nobody knew what to do with it. ‘‘I use the internet extensively, both at home and work. I’ll even google recipes that I can make with specific ingredients I have lying around in the fridge.’’

In a blog for Google this month, Berners-Lee said this was a time to celebrate the achievement but also a time to think and discuss the next step.

"Key decisions on the governance and future of the internet are looming, and it's vital for all of us to speak up for the web's future."

Over the past decade, when the internet hasn't been helping protest movements blossom, it has picked apart the music and movie industry through the rise and fall of Napster and peer-to-peer file sharing.

Recorded Music New Zealand chief executive Damian Vaughan said before the internet, the music industry was all about live gigs and CDs, tapes and vinyl.

He said the internet had opened up vast amounts of music instantly and allowed artists to directly engage with their audiences.

But countless album sales have fallen victim to piracy and file sharing, costing the industry serious money.

Book publishing hasn't fared too well either, though Auckland University Press director Sam Elworthy said the internet could be seen as a complement to the industry.

He said by the time he had arrived in book publishing, the world wide web was just starting out.

"The internet first changed how we worked. Then a few years later it fundamentally changed the market for our books."

But with this wealth of information at our fingertips, why was the most googled term of last year "funny pictures"?

Griffin said: "I think we take it for granted definitely how accessible information is now.

"It is literally the most significant thing since the Gutenberg press . . . now it is less important to know lots of things because all of that knowledge is so accessible.

"People are a lot better now at finding information and putting it in context rather than just rote learning."

For Griffin, Mosaic, the first usable web browser, was the biggest game-changer early on, while Facebook, Google and YouTube had made the biggest impact in the past 10 years.

He said with the technology that companies like Google had access to, they would almost "know us better than we know ourselves".

Sunday Star Times