The End of the Web


By Samuel Greengard

It's ironic that as the technology that drives the Web becomes more sophisticated, the overall level of intelligence online seems to plummet. And nowhere is this fact more visible than on Facebook, the equivalent of a red giant sun of narcissism, triviality and non-thinking.

I'm not alone in having a love/hate relationship with Facebook. On one hand, it's a great way to stay in touch with friends, old schoolmates and colleagues. On the other hand, it's a great way for a lot of people who have near-zero relevance to your life to stay in touch with you. Not long ago, I began dismissing friend requests from people I didn't know because, in the case of social media, the sum actually is less than the individual friend.

Worse is the rapid emergence of the so-called Junkweb, a term coined by blogger Chris Brogan. These are all the snazzy pictures with clever slogans and pithy quotes materializing all over places like Facebook and Pinterest. Former Star Trek star George Takei seems to be personally responsible for an entire solar system of these posts. They're fun and alluring, but they are a complete and utter waste of time. They are to the Web what refined sugar is to diabetes.

Once upon a time, people clicked on links and explored the Web. There was even a utopian notion that the Web might help educate society and make the world a better place. Alas, human nature is human nature.

Most people seek to avoid any mental heavy-lifting, and the Junkweb fits this model perfectly. It reaffirms an already unbendable political/social/personal ideology and lets other people mostly refrain from thinking by clicking "Like."

Unfortunately, over time, the mechanics of Facebook—and the Junkweb—lead to a lower common denominator of human interaction. We attract others who share our philosophy and repel those who have a different point of view. We trivialize ideas by compartmentalizing them into a binary world of like and irrelevant. Ultimately, we join a self-selecting club of like-minded individuals.

Is it any wonder why there's a growing level of intolerance and strained social discourse in politics and in our daily interactions? We're unclear on why social connections are flimsy, and many find their lives empty.

I'm not sure where all this ends, though one thing is entirely clear: The future of the Web is looking less picture-perfect all the time.



2 Comments for "The End of the Web"

  • dwwright99 September 20, 2012 4:04 pm

    Really, you used to accept friend requests from people you didn't know? Really? Facebook is like any tool for communication, it can be used well or badly. I don't think bad use of one tool condemns the whole internet... and you didn't even mention cat videos on YouTube....

  • John Maslanski September 20, 2012 12:31 pm

    I find it interesting that you extrapolate the vanishingly small signal to noise ratio of Facebook with the whole Internet and that this level of noise is new. Two comments on this. One is that this type of noise has always existed - started with the passing around of "junkweb" via interoffice mail and quickly increased in volume and frequency with the advent of email. I see the junkweb on Facebook as a logical acceleration of the stuff that has always been there. Comment number 2, you seem to discount the fact that more people are accessing the Internet to do "real work" than ever. For example, the Internet is now the number one source of personal health information and interactions. Do I go to Facebook to get news or other "useful" info? No, I, like many others, will surf to NYTimes.com, PatientsLikeMe.com, etc. I see the Internet as a tool to greatly accelerate EVERYTHING that we do - the useful as well as the not so useful....

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