A history of the internet : the reduced work of the interwebz 1988 – 2013
A short while back, a number of the Firedog crew hosted a talk at Digital Shoreditch 2013. We have had the pleasure of speaking twice now at this outstanding event, three years in the running. For 2012, we were all serious and educated – Talking about the world of Digital Branding. That was all fine and well but has limitations on creative writing and showmanship. So this year we upped our game, got all arty and brought on an extended firedog crew.
The topic at hand; The history of the internet. In all its glory together with a closer look at the underbelly of modern society’s greatest vice. We delegated script writing across the entire agency with sordid topics such as “desperation” and “bad taste”. We sub-edited this down to a fine selection of trivia, facts and foibles. And here it is in all it’s glory! Delightfully delivered by team members Cara Harvey, Samuel Cane, Ammar Idris and Cliff Boobyer.
By the way, you can see the speech in full online here
Username… Password… Telephone Number!?
Once upon a time, in a land before the miracle of broadband, accessing the internet wasn’t something you did, but rather something you heard. Dial-up has since become a not so fond memory of slow speeds and the sound of a bone-chilling screech, which, for many people inspired fears of a coming war between the humans and the machines. Thankfully, this technology was never actually a threat to our survival. Modems have all but been destroyed, found now only on the desks of retro-chic hipsters. It is said that the residents of Darwin, in California, have yet to experience broadband and have thus been frozen in the past. Their only means of communication with the modern world is through a dial-up powered time machine which they can’t use since their sister’s constantly on the phone.
Protection? Yes I use AVG.
As anyone’s Dad will tell you; The evolution of the species is rapidly accelerating. What’s really evident is our casual attitude to risk within the world of digital. Decades ago, like sheltered offspring of the analogs we ventured forth awake, wary and suitably awe inspired. We had McAfee, we had Firewalls, we had Hollywood sci-fis. And we were taught to be scared. We kept schtum and spoke in hushed tones about privacy and values. Fast forward to today and not one of us cares about contracting a virus. My PIN, sure, no problem – I have insurance. Privacy? No way man, it’s all about sharing the love now. We’ve become a bunch of disease ridden, voyeuristic groupies caught in an orgy of malevolent oneness, no matter the consequences. Ha, and to think that we ever scared of a Worm.
Google it bitch!
The internet has had the most profound impact on how we learn. The question still stands as to whether that impact has been for better or for worse. For those of us who have embraced the technology’s takeover, throwing every question that pops into your head at a search engine has come to replace visiting libraries. Which is a sad statement about our growing dependence on technology. Today, the likely response to a person requesting directions from you is: Where’s your google maps app, you Noob? The benefits of technology’s use in education are notably profound but there have always been serious questions raised among academics about the negative side effects technology has on the way we are evolution decided we were supposed to learn. As to what those questions are? I don’t know, but just Google it, there’s tons of stuff out there.
640 x 480
Creativity in the digital space wasn’t always fun and games. Today, the latest iPad’s retina display clocks in at around 2000 pixels. In the early 90’s the average screen resolution was at a staggering 640×480. Creating a 1 pixel drop shadow was like sculpting in clay with your feet. Whilst severely pissed. There certainly was no subtlety in the method. Everything was massive in low resolution, a library of large print books on monitors more bent than a Jensen windscreen. In an absurd twist, this limited vision led to the unremitting client request of getting everything above the fold, as if the strain of low resolution rendered us unable to scroll with our digits. Cue websites more cluttered than the desks of Shoreditch’s Egomaniacs Anonymous.
In four colours
There is no denying; designers like choice. When it comes to expressing colour we are spoilt rotten by our fancy Pantone Swatchbooks and our 16million colour hues. We weren’t so lucky a few short years ago, IBM’s first colour display standard gave us four colours. You could have your pixels in brain twisting combinations of either red, yellow and green, or in cyan, magenta, and white. For the blessed that could afford an RGBi monitor, 4-bits allowed a whopping 16 colours including black and white. Then in the 90’s designers were invited by the Lord of Colour to Choiceland, population 256 colours. Parties were held, gradients were painted and a new era of colour began.
8 bit pixels
As Kraftwerk will no doubt tell you, circles (or rounded corners for that matter) are for pussies. 8 bit graphics made an artform of rendering shapes in the digital world. Something that now seems so quaint, felt at the time, boundary pushing. Disturbingly, the limited graphics had no restraint on the imagination. As young teens, we spunked our way through Leisure Suite Larry – Ogling at the carnal behaviour of naked female sprites, flashing their binary bits across our monitors. On Streets of Rage, if you made Blaze do a backward kick you could see her knickers playing a seductive – if not violent game of peekaboo. Did she want you to see, didn’t she, did she? … the bloody slag. All that can be said, is that in reality, the good people at Sega managed to express the flash, and subsequent adolescent dribbling, all with 1 pixel. 1 pixel people!
An under construction page
It’s good to consume information online. To visit a page that tells you something, anything, rather than absolutely nothing. Have you not got off your arse to decorate your shop window? Why not have a page to tell the good folk that there will – one day, in the near, or maybe distant future, or indeed never, be a complete website instead of this vast disappointing void. While the internet may be the font of all knowledge; under construction pages are the opposite. They’re pretty much like throwing your hand up in class to say you don’t have the answer, not only to the question, but to anything. Even more fascinating in retrospect was the tendency of the host in guiding you to your conclusion of disappointment. Bollards, traffic cones, hazard tape and bright orange blinking lights helped convince you that it wasn’t safe to advance, that it was best to stay away, never to return.
It is true that once upon a time it was very hard to display digital content in an emotive context. Bandwidth was limited, colour was limited and real estate was limited. Fortunately time was a luxury they had before the latter onslaught of the modern web. Engineers playing designers coded up vast tracts of blinking, flashing, revolving and twisting text. Valuable time spent on writing words swiftly became time spent on pimping words. Like a desperate Word art opiate for the masses, early style mark up allowed us to shiver and shake our way into the future. Technicolour content was born albeit via the creation of an unintelligible quivering mass of confused pixels.
Style over substance didn’t stop there. Fast forward a few years and you have the birth of the flash site intro. This single handed rude “up-yours” to the gods of reason led directly to the protracted accessibility Nazi’s and the emerging ignorant designer class. No moment in digital creative history has caused greater friction and glowing embarrassment. On the one side, the balls out display of negligent creativity and on the other side, a frustrated web audience just wanting to get shit done. Flash intros were like the prepubescent fumbling in the dark before the glorious orgasm of actually getting through to a company’s phone number – Which by the way you had to write down because you couldn’t fucking well copy it. Could you?war between the
In 1996 Ask Jeeves swallowed up hours of time we could’ve spent using our own brains instead. It was designed as a tool to find sensible and logical answers. That kept us busy for a short while. We began typing in questions that we knew were completely unanswerable. “What is the meaning of life? Is there a God? Do blondes really have more fun?” Were we reaching for a childish notion of life being clear? Did we tap into our unconscious fears of death? Or do we simply get a kick out of smart technology coming up with dumb answers? A ploy, perhaps, to flatter our misguided perception that we are still in control. And in today’s world, we don’t even need to type. We have voice recognition programmes such as Siri. Emerging from our K-hole on a Sunday morning we can simply pick up our mobile and wheeze; “How much more can my body take?”
Making an impression is a need as old as time itself, and online, that need is amplified many many times, So often do we internet stalk ourselves, our lovers, our potential lovers, our friends and our co-workers. Like the biggest of brothers, the web likes to keep tabs on all of us. A credibility serum for the masses, it underwrites your standing, or lack thereof, in society. There is nothing quite as shameful as being void from Google. Even your lewd comment on BoredMum22’s crumpet recipe is better than nothing. And the legitimacy of even reality is written every day. If it’s not registered in binary, it’s not worth mentioning. In fact it’s questionable as to whether it happened at all. Apparently my grandpa sent 400 Storm-troopers to meet their fuhrer in the heavens. However, I’m not so sure. I had a look and I can’t find his tweets anywhere.
Lolcats, and other questionable pursuits
In direct rebellion of all that it is proper, the protagonists of “laugh-out-loud-cat” deliberately create captions which are grammatically incorrect. Lauded by Time Magazine as truly phenomenal and placed on Entertainment Weekly’s “End-of-the-decade, ‘best-of’ list” this is the second most popular search for pussy online. Is all this playfulness a waste of time? Perhaps not – Sigmund Freud has said; “Time spent with cats is never wasted”. Does it then stand to reason that “time spent with lolcats is never wasted?” The land of Lolcats is an example of another miracle of the web – the internet meme. A joke that behaves like a virus, spreading from peer to peer repeated, and slightly funnier each time. The term, coined by Richard Dawkins, is a shortening of the ancient Greek word “mīmēma”, meaning “imitated thing”. I wish I could think of something funny to say here, like a meme, but I can’t. So here’s another few pictures of cats.
I’m sure that you’ll agree, that if there is one thing that keeps people awake at night it’s not being able to beat M. Bison on Street Fighter 2 Turbo. He is ridiculously hard. Balrog, Vega and Sagat can be beaten usually on the first attempt, but Bison, now he’s just stupid. But is how they get you… they lull you into thinking you’re half decent and then; wham! – Not a chance. You’ll be up till 3 in the morning watching YouTube tutorials that will never give you the same satisfaction as the pure win. Speaking of not getting satisfaction, take The Sims. You’d think it would be more beneficial to spend time on your own development rather than the careers and lives of your virtual counterparts. Nah! That’s way too much hard work!
Everyone loves a flutter now and again. The thrill of the risk, the buzz, the competition. If Ray Winstone tells you to; “Bet 365 NOW!… You bloody well do it!” Online gambling has transformed into a viable career option. Prize pots of millions can be played for with adversaries from all across the world. In recent years, further spice has been added by being able to create your own digital version of yourself sitting at the table. The optional extra of adding beads of sweat to your avatar’s forehead upon making a heavy bluff are still in early beta testing. Obviously, gambling is a risky pursuit, so variations exist where you gamble with virtual money. On the up side you can win millions that you can never spend. On the downside your avatar now doesn’t own any shoes, and the only credit he can get is a £1 bag of 2p’s for the shovey type machine – the ultimate digital humiliation.
lonely hearts among us. Online dating developed a stigma. Spotty, sweaty, socially challenged guys doing their very best to enchant ladies with more cats than friends. Now, more and more people are turning to online dating.In a round-about way everything we do comes down to a desire to get laid. To continue the species as it were. In 1995, Match.com opened its doors to the
Modern life leaves us with little time to sew our wild oats. Leaving the house with the hope of crossing a potential mate is so pre 2010. You can now cut the wheat from the chaff and find a partner who likes entertaining, long walks and dogging just as much as you do. Is it any surprise that 1 in 5 relationships in the UK now begin online? Unfortunately for the founder of Match.com, the site was ultimately so successful that his girlfriend found a more suitable using his very own technology. Ouch.
One site that hasn’t done much for social interaction is Chat Roulette. Created in two days and two nights, it randomly connects strangers from around the world in a one-on-one video chat. Sounds like a delightful idea right? An invention that spreads love and ideals from community to community? Hmmm, yeah well, the world called and they said no, they said they’d rather masturbate on each other instead. The site, and others like it, have drawn huge amounts of people. If they’re not playing Wagner’s “Das Liebesverbot” on the old pink oboe, they’re wearing masks or attempting to be “different”. On launch the site began with 20 wankers, and then it doubled. It continued to double every day after that. It now has an estimated one and a half million users with 35,000 online at any one time. It seems that we may all be terrified of losing our PIN number, but flashing your knob to the entire world? That is of trifling concern.
Love it or absolutely adore it, pornography has made itself very comfortable on the net. 35% of all downloads are pornographic and 25% of all search engine requests are porn related. That means that the last searches on rows 1, 6 and 15 were all for porn. Come on people, at least pretend we’re in public! every piece of modern internet technology can be traced back to it. Credit Card payments – Porn. Streaming Video – Porn. Online Membership – Porn. Encryption coding – Porn. Chat Rooms – Porn. Flash – Porn. The Porn industry is always the first to look at technology creatively to see how it can improve their product. This means they’re usually the first to progress user experience and enhance technology for the greater good. As professionals that’s something we all aim to do on a daily basis. Porn, we owe you a drink!The Internet today, wouldn’t exist without a healthy dose of porn. Of course, porn didn’t invent the internet – we’re just saying that almost
Rate my Poo
In the good old days Mr Bad Taste used to lurk unloved in the dark corners of parties whilst being ignored by the noble and more esteemed multitude. Now thanks to the anonymity of users behind their PC’s, epic digital voyeurism has ensued. You can gawk at stuff you wouldn’t dare even speak about in public. Unfortunately this encourages shit to float to the surface on the buoyancy of public impulse. Talking of shit – What about ratemypoo.com. As an example, this whole tech infrastructure has been built around effluence. Those somewhat sexy rows of liquid cooled servers lying under some impenetrable mountain… are essentially just hosting piles of crap. It’s like the merging of bad taste and technology has created a catalyst for an amplified result beyond our wildest dreams (or nightmares for that matter).
What does all of this have to say about humanity? Anonymity has such an influence of what society consumes. It also shows us what we’d rather be watching instead of re-runs of friends. It’s that rubber neck car crash moment. We all pretend to love the planet, to care for individuals and the general well being of the human race but secretly we’re looking at skanks shagging behind some dumpster. We’re obsessed about the underbelly of civilisation. The web has always been the antithesis of the big brother sanitised message we get from traditional marketers and the powers that be. People are less excited about your new pain relieving toothpaste™… They’re more excited about our onward devolution as a species. It’s all because the human is essentially a moronic idiot, questionably positioned above, yet at best equal, to the animals. It doesn’t stop there – Oh no, we’re blessed with what the faith calls a “Free will”. Add to the equation, the pressure of being successful and the eyes of a dystopian control system and you can see that bad taste on the internet isn’t about goofing off. It’s a counterstrike to the soft belly of normaldom. A fight for freedom, individuality and ultimately your right to be stupid.
Did you enjoy that? We did rock the boat a little and we were duly interviewed by the TechcityInsider just after the show. Catch up with Cliff afterwards as he talks economy, skills and universities