I recently added a link-checker to the deploy process for this website, and of the ~500 or so external links links I've added over my 13-ish years of posts, 10% of them were completely dead, a handful more hit unexpected error states (expired certs, timeouts, etc.), and I can't even imagine how many load successfully but no longer have the original content I actually linked to (I haven't had the heart to look).
At one point in my life, there was a common refrain that "the Internet never forgets." What you wrote, what you posted, and what you shared with the world would forever be preserved for all to see; so be careful.
Turns out that's a crock of shit.
The Internet has a limited and fallible memory just like everything else does. Sure, that website you loved as a kid might still be around, and the content might be the same, but... it also probably isn't. The things you link out to can disappear, redirect, or change without you ever knowing.
While there are some organizations dedicated to preserving the history of the Internet—thank you archive.org—those organizations aren't eternal, and at some point will disappear themselves, taking troves of digital history with them. Every site runs out of money eventually, and as goes the money, so too goes the content.
And, to be totally clear, this is just as true for my own content as anything else.
Someday I will die, and when I do I don't expect my family to fork over their hard earned coin to keep this silly little blog up—and even if they do, someone will eventually stop cutting checks; at which point, every backlink to my content will also go the way of the dodo.
When you think about it, though, it's amazing how drastically the landscape of this relatively new technology has changed in just the past 15 years. In 2009:
- MySpace was the de-facto place for any band's homepage.
- We listened to music on MP3 players and CDs.
- Facebook was still used heavily by college students.
- Our phones mostly flipped, the lucky ones had Blackberries, and the luckiest ones had the (still) new iPhone.
- The personal homepage was still a thing, if not more prominently so, but they more closely resembled the ones in the late 1990's than the late 2010's.
- The GPS in my car was made by Garmin, had no internet connection, and was suction-cupped to my windshield instead of embedded in the dash.
The list goes on and on.
Now, the first websites I ever built are dead to the point where not even The Internet Archive has a copy of them. Multi-User Dungeons, the text-based precursors to MMORPGs, were already dying in 2009, and are now practically extinct (although not for lack of trying). Hell, I used to self-host my websites on a thrift-store computer in my apartment closet because it was my only option, and now everything is in the cloud—including the cloud.
Things are very different now, and will continue to be so; worse in some ways, better in others. I wish I wasn't connected all the time, and that things weren't so convenient—because all convenience has done for me is made me lazy, poor, and anxious. But having every photo of my kids backed up and automatically shared with my wife is a godsend.
The Internet—also known as The World Wide Web for you pedants out there—just isn't what it used to be.
What it was is dead, or dying, but that's because it is always growing and changing. We may not be able to recover its past, and while I'm grateful for the work done by online archivists and small-web content creators to keep its early spark alive, I hope that the good will always find a way to bubble up to the top, so we can rediscover it all over again.
This is post 026 of #100DaysToOffload