Are We On Web 4.0 By Now?

I was reading something the other day that suggested that, because of things like cryptocurrency, NFTs, and the metaverse, the “internet of today” was not a particularly fun place to be. Putting aside the obvious common sense factor that, yes, all of those things are terrible — I can’t deny that part of me sometimes thinks, oh, what if I could make a fortune on NFTs before the grift collapses, before immediately coming to my senses — the thing that sticks with me about this idea is the notion of the internet of today, as compared with internets of different periods of history.

Part of this is, I suspect, because the internet isn’t something that I’ve had in my life for even half of my life. (I’m old.) The idea that the internet has history is difficult for me to fully comprehend, because part of me is still of the opinion that the whole thing just got started a handful of years ago and everything has a novel sheen to it to this day.

I know that’s not actually true, of course; if nothing else, parts of the internet feel just the opposite, as if they’ve always existed. Haven’t I always been on Twitter, leaving it open as an endless newsfeed as I get through my work day? (Apparently not; I actually wrote about the utopian dream that was Twitter back in 2008 or 2009, brand new and fresh faced about the whole thing.) How did I exist before Gmail? Did I ever actually write lettersReally?

(And let’s not get into the streaming services and how they’ve changed the world, including my own personal world. I’ve heard a rumor that YouTube didn’t even get started until after I’d moved to the U.S., but that just seems extraordinary to consider.)

Despite all of this, I understand the concept of the “internet of today.” I think of all these things like crypto and NFTs and Web3 and everything as something beyond my ken, something for audiences younger and smarter than me. In many ways, the internet of today isn’t for me, but to actually consider that for even a minute leaves me adrift: if I don’t belong in the internet of today, does that mean I’m forever stuck in the past?

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