There is a theory that every passing generation sees history repeating and that there is nothing new under the Sun. Those of us who were at the forefront of surfing the web in the early 1990s now stand before new frontiers. This time though, we are ready and we are determined to build Worlds that are better.
I will never forget the excitement of those early days of online discovery. If you were online in the early 1990s you were one of the minority. We would meet in our Cyberspace either on the Web or via a Telnet BBS or Internet Relay Chat system. We would spend much of the time talking about tech and what we were discovering but slowly those conversations segued into more personal ones. New conversations began and gradually our social lives began to include people with names like niterider666 or GenoParisAOL. Looking back, it is amazing to think that in a way this was a new Eden. Our overwhelming shared experience was of excitement and discovery, and those essentially good qualities that take humanity forward rather than back.
Fast forward a quarter of a Century, and the landscape has changed significantly. There are still tribes who inhabit telnet BBS and IRC systems but their numbers are dwindling. The package holiday tourists who flew into our Eden in the late 90s and early noughties never left – and they brought with them the common cold.
Overnight, explosions began to happen. This erstwhile paradise turned from a magical expense of arctic ice and snow to an oil slicked cityscape of commerce, extreme pornography, hateful trolling, scams and beheadings. I don’t need to tell that story. I don’t want to tell that story.
So imagine how I came alive last night when I found myself again with the pioneers – with the good guys. Stood in a virtual cliffside apartment overlooking the sea as the sun set. There was air hockey and bowling to play. There was an enormous screen on the wall playing music videos. We marvelled at each other. Each real movement of our heads, each human movement, mirrored in our virtual world. We stretched out our hands and watched as each tiny movement of each individual finger played out in front of us and each other. We talked again about tech, we shared ideas, and discoveries. We talked and we learned to relax. We were being born again. I looked out of the window as I listened to the conversations taking place behind me and realised, in a moment I will never forget, that the sun wasn’t setting. It was rising.
We won’t be alone for long. Our new virtual worlds will once again see the later adopters follow us but we won’t forget the lessons we have learned from the Web. We will fight to keep this new World safe for us, for our children and for each other. We will be tech savvy and we will code this World ourselves. This is our new Eden, our second chance. We don’t want to build walls to keep others out. We want to build strength in community and share the excitement of what it is to see vast unspoiled futures unfolding before us. The lines we will draw here won’t be scars, they will be art.