The Internet: Oasis or Inferno?

**Skip to the end for a request of you, dear readers and internet-goers.**

The internet is the place to be, and it has been for a while. But has it started to feel like there are only a few places to go on the internet? Like you cycle between one site and another in a perpetual loop? (One of those sites being, of course, lplks.org, home of the library.)

I am a millennial on the lower edge of the generational threshold, so I wasn’t really around for anything before MySpace (founded in 2003… yeah). I’m just reading about it now, as I muck around in the mire of social media platforms, and boy do people make the early internet seem like a small, special place. Like, maybe even a place where the goal isn’t “yell at someone” -- the default setting of Facebook and Twitter -- but “make a new friend,” in any of a myriad of chat rooms, peculiar blogs, or half in-person/half virtual local groups. I’m sure this thinking is partly naive and partly the result of Internet 1.0 nostalgia, but, I mean, it’s not hard to imagine how the internet could be better than it is now.

Psst: Imagining a better internet is part of what Joanne McNeil does in her 2020 book, a totally digestible history of the internet from the perspective of the “user”: Lurking.

The library has so many books about the internet -- kind of an anachronism, but there you go -- so if you want to read more about how and why the internet is weird, here’s a list:

What is the internet, even?

View Full List

The internet is so vast that of course there are also weird but *good* pockets out there. Some of them are holdovers from the past, like this memorial website to Bill Hatke, a longtime resident of Lawrence. Some of them are new inclusive spaces, like private channels on Discord, friendly streams on Twitch, or, yeah, even some groups on Facebook. For me, the problem is that the nice pockets and the awful pockets co-exist in the same ultra-concentrated spots on the internet - big social media platforms - so it’s hard to just chat with your digital pals and avoid the onslaught of toxic flamers. 

These digital oases and virtual infernos all have one thing in common: they are in danger of becoming obsolete. You’ve probably heard the adage, What Happens on the Internet Stays on the Internet - meaning, it’s impossible to delete something once it’s been posted online. That’s not exactly true. Remember MySpace? Did you know that in 2019, due to a failure during a “server migration project,” virtually the entire site’s trove of user data was lost? You can stop worrying about anything embarrassing you posted on MySpace in 2006, or on Vine in 2016, or on any number of sites whose companies have stopped preserving their data. 

There wasn’t just embarrassing stuff on MySpace, though. There were early songs from popular musicians like Kate Nash and the Arctic Monkeys, and there were literally millions of tracks from unknown artists creating and sharing their music (and photos, and videos). The combined efforts of all of these people deserve more than erasure -- some notice of impending demise, at least!

That’s where the Internet Archive and its tool, the Wayback Machine, comes in. The Wayback Machine is an archive of, at the time of this writing, over 525 billion web pages. Woah! It’s not perfect, but it’s the best tool we have right now for grasping at the shifting, ephemeral World Wide Web as it changes. And you should contribute!

Do you know of an internet oasis -- a website, or page, that captures something special about Lawrence or Douglas County and should be preserved? Maybe you know about another memorial website to a special Lawrence resident, or a digitized archive of VHS skateboarding videos, or an early LarryVille chat forum. What was happening on the internet when you first logged on? Do you remember, and is the record still there?

If you have a website or two (or many) in mind, the library wants to archive it. Send us the link via this Google form, and we’ll consider it for inclusion in Digital Douglas County History, our virtual local history portal.

Together, we can preserve the internet in all its variety, even as it passes us by.

-Hazlett Henderson is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

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