On 30th birthday, World Wide Web still finding its place

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

If you’ve been on this earth four or five decades, you may remember the sound, that squealing, cracking noise emanating from the phone line as your Apple II or TRS-80 compter attempted to log on to a remote computer somewhere, you weren’t sure just where.

Then there was the low-resolution graphic, a swirl spinning around a Netscape globe logo, while your 300-baud modem attempted to download an early, primitive “Web” page — a new concept in itself.

Until English engineer Tim Berners-Lee proposed the system that became the World Wide Web, the internet was strictly the domain of nerds with the time and inclination to learn the arcane code and have access to the equipment to make it useful.

Berners-Lee came up with the URLs, HTTP and HTML that we take for granted today.

The simple WWW system has evolved into the social media that has changed our lives by opening the door to identity theft and manipulation of public opinion and the political process to the point that Berners-Lee himself is calling for restraints.

In a recent posting, he calls for heavy restraint on activities such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behavior and online harassment.

He criticizes systems that create “perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of misinformation.”

He also calls for limits on “unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarized tone and quality of online discourse.”

He called for laws and code to minimize bad behavior, a change in incentives and more research to modify existing systems to make them more acceptable.”

We agree that too much of the World Wide Web is filled with divisive, unconstructive debate, misinformation and harmless time-wasters like cat videos, but there is always positive potential as well, such as keeping in touch with relatives, getting reacquainted with old friends and making new friends with people who share interests.

There are developments even Berners-Lee might not have imagined.

In one example, Belinda George, a first-year principal in Beaumont, Texas, opens a Facebook Live each Tuesday night at 7:30, reading a children’s book in her living room.

“Tucked-in Tuesdays” proved very popular in her school, and after a story went viral, kids across the country began logging on to hear her stories and animated character voices.

It’s strengthened the links between home and school, and prodded kids to do more reading on their own.

We’ve all heard of silly, dangerous trends like the Tide Pod challenge, but that same youthful energy can be directed in positive directions.

One is the #trashtag challenge, which involves taking photos of a littered area before and after cleaning it up. Facebook user Byron Romån came up with the idea, in his own post, which was shared 314,000 times before it was deleted.

After this late winter, we’ve got a feeling some teens, and more than a few adults might be up for just such a challenge once the weather warms up.

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