When I plugged myself into the World Wide Web, there were a number of fee-based services available: AOL [America Online], Genie, CompuServe, and Prodigy. When you used your telephone service, your modem dialed a local number; you supplied a user name with a password, and AOL connected after a series of progress bars. Thereafter, you would have access to news, chat groups, health information, stock market analysis, or whatever your heart desired. This was the easy way to get information, but you received what they considered newsworthy. Your access was limited to the bias of your provider, and this was the downside to pay online services.
For those of us “into computers” since the mid 1970s, Genie and AOL were for the “newcomer” – the greenhorn, so to speak. Those who didn’t know what do to with this newfound freedom used the online service as a stepping stone to the Virtual World. We chose, instead, to use what eventually became known as the Web Browser. Programs like Netscape Navigator and Explorer were available. Unlike today, you had to pay for Netscape, but when Microsoft created Explorer, they changed the playing field by making Explorer free. Free 3-1/2” floppy discs containing the Explorer Browser were everywhere you went. They even had a display at my local Chinese restaurant.
With a browser, we had to know here to go. When we were “lost,” we’d type in anything like “wtf.com,” for instance, and see if that took us anywhere. Shortly thereafter, in 1994, we discovered Lycos.com and Go.com. Though not the first, these search engines were powerful tools that allowed us to find our areas of interest. I used AltaVista and Northern Light almost exclusively.
What’s my point in all this history? To show how we have come full circle. We looked at the all-in-one programs like Prodigy as the tool for the imbecile. We preferred to stand alone on the seas of the Internet with only a search engine for a compass.
In the last decade, we left the world of self-sufficiency and crossed over into dependency. We spend 22% of our online lives, collectively, on Social Networking/bookmarking sites. In April 2009, we spent 13.9 billion minutes [231 million hours] on sites like Facebook and Twitter, making them our major sources of “news.” In fact, at least 65% of us use social networking sites as the major or the sole source of information. The percentage of people getting their information from duplex telecommunication sources [non-radio, -newsstand, and -television] grew 96% from 1993 to 2007 [from 1% to 97% in 15 years].
In the last week or so, I’ve heard many complaints about the changes to Facebook. As a free website, we need to understand that our opinions do not matter. We complain but we continue to use the free service and this free service continues to garner profits from every click of the mouse. The only thing that will foster a change is loss of “mouse clicks,” but being addicts to social networking, the fear of “missing out” will keep the complainers returning day in and day out.