The Internet, as Tim intended

By Paul Edgington, Director of Marketing, Associate.com

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Illustration by @anamericanghost

The blazing bridge of pandemonium twenty-twenty has not been crossed yet, but besides all the doom and gloom, many agree this year has also been lined with blessings.

It was Gary Vaynerchuk who said it best when he posted a well-timed Instagram story which read:-

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This gave me all the right feels, because as usual Gary was preaching truths! And while global chaos ensued, I must admit that my personal pandemic experience was one of many humble awakenings.

Throughout the first lockdown in Switzerland, I embraced detachment and distanced myself, not only from others but from many things that I hitherto believed I could not live without.

Remarkably, the more I let go of the old, the more I found the new — or maybe, what I was really connecting with, was the real.

Vulnerability can be a useful tool.

Our neighbors joyously serenaded the village with live music every evening at 21:00. It became a ritual for everyone who would hang their heads out of their windows to sing and clap along.

Then came the nostalgia.

I found myself reminiscing about simpler times, and it was quite perplexing — the reality of being confined yet starting to feel freer than ever before.

One notable moment happened on an evening in May, as I was randomly scrolling through some old YouTube videos. In particular, I stumbled across this documentary about Napster, the P2P file sharing platform founded in 1999.

For context, I am a thoroughbred geek — a product of living a prime analogue childhood which then spring-boarded me into the cusp of my teenage years, right when the world started to plug their computers into the phone lines.

My first home computer was bought by my Father in 1995, running the Windows OS of the same year. The exterior casings were unbranded. It was beige and boxy, with cables everywhere.

I recall with crystal clarity the first time I dialed-up, heard those screeching tones and connected to the web. I was 17-years old and I was utterly fascinated.

The combination of PC and internet represented a monolith of influence on my young life and thereafter followed many passionate years of immersion, learning about hardware, software, internet protocol and everything in between.

By the time I finished my college studies, the internet had progressed from a novel idea to a cultural revolution. So, I decided that an eventual career in the Royal Navy was no longer a destination for me, and I got my first serious job working for a national ISP as an IT Technician.

That was almost 20-years ago.

Ironic that one of this year’s gifts afforded me valuable space to reflect on the double-decade that passed since then, and while watching that video about Napster, I was transported to a place that I had not thought about in many years.

For most of us, our relationship with the world wide web today is ubiquitous. We barely draw a line between our online or offline lives and why would we when we can do almost everything in real-time, within a few clicks or swipes?

But, have we already reached online utopia? And, are the many hours a day we are all connected, being used as Tim Berners-Lee intended?

This subject has become a stone in my shoe. My family will tell you its also been the theme of many daily discussions with them, much to their fatigue. Alas, the jury is still out.

Talk with anyone who has done or wants to do a digital detox and listen to their reasons. It’s a complex dilemma.

Putting aside all the staggering capabilities, our primary habits whenever we go online are mostly driven by our needs of convenience, entertainment, and gratification.

There is an elephant in the room, and it is asking us if this is the best we can do with the wealth of knowledge and considerable computational means at our fingertips?

Adversely — I may be generalising here a tad — it seems the more innovative advances we make, the more time we tend to waste in the chasms of consumption.

Think about your own daily screen time. It’s like a kind of shame-metric, especially because most of us would be shy to admit how many hours a day we are looking at a screen of some shape or size.

And, without wanting to sound preachy, how much of that time is spent doing anything worthwhile?

The online productivity myth, I believe, is another pandemic entirely. However, perhaps we as individuals are not to blame?

Today’s dominant internet companies design products that keep us all hooked to what I like to call their lust algorithm. They cleverly bind our endorphin factories to their ego-boosting, confidence-sapping engines, and the ROI for our time spent is mostly little to none, and it’s devilishly temporary.

My own screen time averages out at currently 6-hours a day, by the way.

So, what can we do?

The first step towards resolution is identifying and admitting that there is a problem.

The Napster story anchors itself around freedom and person-to-person connection via the innovative capabilities made possible by the internet.

Rapid uptake of the file-sharing platform proved an interesting use-case for the internet at its domestic dawn, and in the process, it changed the music industry, forever.

Decentralised, utilitarian applications like Napster are perhaps what the world needs today, more than ever.

Not only in the way they can catalyse disruption, but in how they generate person-to-person freedoms and empowerment, creating entirely new ecosystems and alternative economies that sit above traditional systems.

These are the principle foundations that make companies like Uber and AirBnb so important and so successful.

I have heard, read and been a part of countless stories about the impact that the events of this year have had on friends, families, businesses, and entire industries across the world. Thankfully, many are adapting and finding ways to not only survive but even thrive.

Ian Moore, Founder at DEMI, for example, recently shared this wonderful testimonial. Ian, thank you for your tenacity and great energy.

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These experiences altogether did not only make me think or talk about what the next generation of internet applications could be, I decided that I wanted to help build them.

Hence, at the start of November 2020, after a wonderful 12-year tenure at Philip Morris International, I joined the leadership team at Associate.com

We are at an early stage, bravely putting the plane together while flying it on our mission to reinvent global incorporation so that it is adapted to the internet.

I am incredibly grateful, and I cannot wait to create a new world of decentralised possibilities, online.

To be continued…

Paul

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