Waxing lyrical

I love when I read yet another piece of people waxing lyrical about the past and future of the web, as I stumbled upon this piece on the progression of the web’s personality today. I was among the people who, as mentioned in the article, “the majority of the internet’s early users just had a general interest in computers and may have known enough to do some basic programming work. The resulting products were useful, but ultimately simple.” Like others in the category, my interest in design could be traced back to amateur coding of my own Myspace page, where there is no concept of minimalism, or no less-than-3-colours-or-fonts rule: you basically put every ounce of glitter and moving images as you could. No doubt, the web is going to evolve even more interestingly in the few years to come, but one thing I do hope to see and experience less: ads in all manners — popups, banners, autoplaying videos, etc. What we understood and experienced before was one could browse around and not being bombarded by all of these ads and having our personal data tracked, stored, manipulated, and sometimes used against us.

In yet another wave of nostalgia, I chanced upon this lovely ode to Microsoft Encarta. I remember my father brought home a few of these CDs to me. Using a bulky family Windows computer (possibly running on Windows XP at the time and took forever to start and shut down) I sat down at my desk and lapped up the entire content overnight, then played them again. It was how I learned to pronounce Lesotho (hint: it’s not Lay-so-to), got giddy watching the Moon landing, and spent a few hours traveling the world by clicking on a place in the globe to learn something new about the country. I am excited to learn from the post that Microsoft Encarta is still used in the developing world on disconnected, or occasionally connected computers. Despite every progress, knowledge democracy still needs a lot of work. (Also, see the Alternate Internet).

Something related to the democratisation of knowledge access today: WITI wrote about el paquete of Cuba. Given its government’s restrictions and the US embargo, Internet connection in Cuba is fairly limited. If you wanted to use the Internet in Cuba, you have to go to a government-sanctioned hotspot, build your own illicit hotspot with illegal routers, or create one with an expensive 3G connection on your phone. It is with this very reason el paquete semanal (the weekly package) is very popular. It is basically a 1TB folder on a hard drive, curated by enterprising Cubans, which contains all the pop culture you might need, from tv series, video games, ripped Youtube videos, slide decks, PDFs of magazines, mp3, and many more. What’s interesting is that it contains basically no political content or non-Cuban ideology, no books, no serious scholarship — just pure entertainment. One could obtain the content of this hard disk for a couple of bucks, and there we have a solution for a digital economy in an environment where digital infrastructure is constrained.

Also, made me smile today: a group of Nigerian teens making sci-fi shorts with professional-grade special effects using a smartphone with a busted screen, some makeshift equipments including homemade green sheets hung on walls, and possibly using some open-source editing tools. Life will always find a way.

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