What Does the Internet Mean to You?

A lot of things, I’m sure. Somewhere to find information about things you don’t know, perhaps. A place where you can connect with your friends and family through social networks, perhaps. Or maybe it’s where you find great deals, cheaper ways to get your goods and services. Or maybe it’s a tool you can use to promote yourself and/or your business on the cheap. Or it can be somewhere to find entertainment that help you pass your time. It might also be your tool for generating revenue, and for “disrupting the market”.

In its short history, the Internet has managed to connect the world and become a ubiquitous tool and medium. And I think we should congratulate our engineers and entrepreneurs, our volunteers and donors, and our global community that made this happen. We have indeed made great progress with the Internet.

But we must not be contented.

The Internet may be an effective and productive and revolutionary tool, but beyond its utilitarian function, there’s something too many of us overlook: the potential for the Internet to have a heart.

I’d like you, the reader, to think about your web browser: when you first open your browser, without any prior bookmarks, what do you see? Nothing. Just a blank page, white and empty. And it’s up to us to fill it up with whatever we like.

That’s the beginning of the Web. Nobody dictated what the Web has to be, not even Tim Berners-Lee. And like a child with crayons, we are free to color this blank page, this blank canvas with whatever we like. So far, the bulk of us have chosen to make this blank page a functional tool and medium that improves our practical lives. That’s all great, but I think it’s high time our philosophers and artists and teachers step up and color the Internet with other shades. The Internet doesn’t need to be a marketplace, it can be a lovely canvas that pleases our visual senses. The Internet doesn’t need to be an entertainment center, it can be a place for our contemplative meditations. And the Internet doesn’t have to be just a tool, it can be a source of inspiration.

The reason I’m saying this is because I notice, both as an industry professional and as a user, the disturbing trend of people seeing the Internet as merely a tool for making money, or saving money; of engineers spending all their time thinking about making things more efficient, and businessmen spending all their time selling more online products. But why hasn’t anyone thought of spending more time on creating better content?

By better content, I don’t mean a more persuasive article or a more user friendly interface. No, by better content I mean content that touch our hearts, content that inspire us, content that make us think like a human. Content that is moving.

Years ago, I read a very short article online (sadly, I lost the link), where the writer expounds on the very simple virtue of the Internet: being able to see his daughter’s doodle online in an instant. That was the last time I read something that I felt for. Ten years ago, or more, I came across an online quiz that tests your ability to tell the different Asian races apart (clue: you can’t), and that’s the last time I felt I was taught something truly valuable online. And it was also about ten years ago, when the first Flash websites were in rage, that I saw spurts of online creativity and individuality that truly inspired me, and since then, I have yet to see something online that provoked the same emotions in me.

The point? It’s been a while since we’ve spent time creating content not because it sells, but because we want to inspire and touch. Or maybe just to surprise. And maybe it’s about time we start again. This content doesn’t have to be built on the latest technology, but it does have to come from the heart. Don’t let our next generation see the Internet as a mere tool or source of frivolity; make it much, much more for them.