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Making the internet dirty

What if the internet were a physical thing? A great big warehouse perhaps? It would be huge and bewildering complex for sure, but what would it smell like? Would you wash your hands after touching it? I would. I think it would be filthy, and all the better for it.

Everyday we hear mega numbers about how many breadjillions* of data are being uploaded every minute to video network X, and how many vistors site Y has. Numbers we simply cannot comprehend as outside of the comments/likes/views we see, the sites and networks themselves remain pristine. Pixels don’t gather dust, and whites remain white.

What if you knew the latest YouTube viral was actually viral, covered in the fingerprints, coughs and human detritus of the millions that have watched it before you. What if the video warped and crackled at the punchline, like VHS tapes used to when you rewound that funny/violent/sexy bit over and over? Sounds odd but this chap uploaded and downloaded the same clip 1000 times and it ended up like this:

How cool is that. He’s no longer him. He’s the mess of the internet, speaking like the Predator.

And what if you measured the popularity of a blog not by Pagerank or Technorati rating, but by its grubbiness, how well-thumbed it was? This is all a continuation of a theme I was interested in a while back, the idea that ‘designed deterioration’ could make people treasure virtual objects more and therefore avoid needless creation/uploading.

As much as a dirty internet sounds repugnant (imagine the physical evidence that would accumulate on YouPorn), I think it could also be a thing of beauty. It could replace measurement, it could signify quality, and it would reflect the physical world. Also it would encourage digital lifespans – personally i’m uncomfortable uploading photos to Flickr knowing that they will remain long after my death, so would love the option to upload for X amount of time, or until X number of people have seen it.

If you think of the internet as a river of data, are we building a ridiculous reservoir? If we are to encourage an internet where information, experience and time are all sacred, is physical proof a necessary measure? Or is the internet’s strength the fact that it is not physical? I like to think there’s something in this, otherwise I’m wasting my time, so would love your thoughts.

Photo used under Creative Commons license, courtesy of Flickr user mykreeve.

*when I am king breadcrumbs will be my currency. Breadjillions will be the highest magnitude. I am a wally.

This post was filed under Technology, The future, Working culture Comments are currently closed.


  1. Lovely idea Ross. It makes me think two things. First, that in real life, the BEST loved things are sometimes the best-maintained, protected and preserved – think about the clinical cleanliness of an art gallery – although not always of course. I guess that’s more the case when it’s lots of people that care enough about something.

    The other thing that it makes me think is that the internet is kind of the inverse of the real world: it’s only things that are loved by enough people that ARE curated, maintained and kept white-as-white. Over time (and we’re too early into the web to have had to deal with too much of this), accounts will be closed, older websites aren’t kept up to date with new browsers, the proverbial white does start to fade. The website’s not HTML5. It’s not 3D. I can’t smell it.

    Thanks Dave for two contradictory thoughts. You’re welcome.

    Posted 16th January 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink
  2. Ross

    Thanks Dave. And Dave.

    I agree with what you’re saying, but I wonder what the post browser internet will allow. If our favourite places(like galleries, houses, outdoor spaces) get augmented by the internet like we imagine they will, how can the internet augment the wear and tear. Or maybe offset it?

    Posted 16th January 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink