35th birthday of world wide web—tribute to Tim Berners-Lee

More than thirty-five years ago, Tim Berners-Lee introduced the world to the internet, a realm whose future trajectory seemed unfathomable at the time. It embarked on a journey filled with unforeseen challenges and opportunities, driven by the underlying principles of collaboration, compassion, and creativity — the very essence of what I term the 3 C’s. Initially conceived as a tool to empower humanity, the internet’s early years fulfilled this promise admirably. It fostered decentralization, cultivated diverse communities, empowered individuals, and generated substantial value.

However, over the past decade, rather than embodying these noble values, the internet has been complicit in their erosion. The ramifications of this trend are profound and wide-reaching. From the consolidation of platforms to the rise of artificial intelligence, the internet now serves as the foundational bedrock of our digital ecosystem, profoundly reshaping geopolitics, driving economic shifts, and influencing lives across the globe.

Current State:

Five years ago, as the internet turned thirty, Tim Berners-Lee raised concerns about its dysfunction, driven by the self-serving interests of corporations, which have undermined its core values and caused breakdowns and harm. Fast forward to the internet’s 35th Birthday, and the rapid advancement of AI has only exacerbated these issues, highlighting the interconnectedness of web problems with emerging technologies.

Two interconnected issues demand our attention. Firstly, there’s the concerning concentration of power, a departure from the decentralized ethos initially envisioned. This concentration has fragmented the web, leading to fierce competition among platforms vying to keep users engaged for profit through passive content consumption. This exploitative model is particularly worrisome in times of elections, where it could exacerbate political tensions. Secondly, there’s the exploitation of personal data, creating deep profiles for targeted advertising and exerting control over the information users consume.

How did we get here? Leadership lacking diversity has steered the internet away from its intended role as a public good, succumbing instead to capitalist forces that drive monopolization. Governance, tasked with rectifying such imbalances, has failed to keep pace with technological advancements, leading to a troubling gap between innovation and effective oversight.

The Road Ahead:

The future hinges on our ability to reform the current system while simultaneously crafting a new one that genuinely serves humanity’s best interests. Achieving this demands breaking down data silos to foster collaboration, creating conditions where a diversity of options thrive to spur creativity, and transitioning from polarizing content to an inclusive environment that nurtures empathy and understanding.

Setting the Stage:

To transform the existing system, we must address its flaws while championing those visionary individuals striving to build a better one. A new paradigm is emerging, prioritizing individual intention over mere attention, liberating us from the constraints of the status quo and reclaiming control over our data. Led by a new generation of pioneers across various disciplines, this movement seeks to realign the web with its original human-centered vision.

Fundamental Shift:

Collaboration among stakeholders is crucial to reforming the web and guiding the development of emerging technologies. Forward-thinking legislation can facilitate innovative solutions, while global citizens must demand higher standards and greater accountability for their online experiences. The time is ripe to confront the shortcomings of the dominant system and embrace transformative solutions that empower individuals.

Solution in Sight:

The Solid Protocol offers a promising solution, enabling individuals to reclaim ownership and control over their personal data through personal online data stores (PODs). This approach has already gained traction, as evidenced in Flanders, where every citizen now has their own POD. It represents the future of data management, symbolizing the shift towards a more equitable and user-centric digital ecosystem.

Call to Action:

Realizing this emergent movement requires collective support for reform-minded individuals and a shift in the global mindset. Organizations like the Web Foundation, co-founded by Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith, play a crucial role in supporting and accelerating this transition. However, broader support is needed to empower morally courageous leadership, collectivize solutions, and reshape the online world to prioritize humanity’s needs over profit. Only then can the internet fulfill its potential as a catalyst for creativity, collaboration, and compassion.

P.S. It is a rewritten version of originally published article here.

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