The Channelization of the Internet

Earlier this year, I wrote about voyeurism and losing our souls to the internet.  The premise of the post was that the representations that we make of ourselves online can eventually replace other people’s actual/real perceptions of us – and that it can destroy your soul, basically.

I’d like to continue this conversation by pointing out that the internet has been going through a dramatic change.  In the technology industry we call it “Web 2.0”, but no one really knows what that actually means… so let me try to explain what this is and what I see it doing to our society.

First, a little history:

  • The internet started as an information resource.  The web was just online advertising.  Businesses simply posted information about their business, product, or services.
  • In the next phase of the internet,  it was all about transactions – buying and selling stuff online.  You would get the information about a product but then also be able to purchase it and have it shipped directly to you.  Think Amazon, eBay, and all the other eTailers.
  • In “Web 2.0” the experience totally changes.  Now besides getting information and buying it, you find the community around a product.  You read other customer’s reviews on it, find the recommendation for the cheapest reseller of it, and then purchase it.

Web 2.0 is the shift away from a controlled message from the site owner and moves toward a collaborative, community approach, where content comes from the users of the site themselves.  (After all, what is a better way of getting site loyalty than making everyone who goes there a part-owner?!) Web 2.0 is all about the user. We make connections online to like-minded individuals.  We create communities of friends and coworkers.

Blogging itself is perhaps the epitome of Web 2.0.  Users run their own site and post content as they please which everyone can view and comment on. (Hi Mom!)

But there is another oft-ignored phenomenon of Web 2.0 – channelization of the internet.

What is Channelization?  Think TV.  Parents hate TV because it is a device they have no control over that their children mindlessly plug themselves into.  You tuned the set to your favorite station (or channel) and just let it feed you content for hours on end.  It is the ultimate time-waster, but super entertaining and enjoyable!

We used to go to the internet only to seek information.  We would find the information or make our transaction, and then we were done.  Now, we are shifting toward ‘plugging in’ to the internet as we did the TV.  We now go to the internet to seek informational entertainment.

We get that information entertainment as serial feeds from certain sites.  Blogs are serial feeds.  We then aggregate feeds into things like Google Reader or iGoogle.  We can see a ‘Live Feed’ from Facebook or Twitter of everything our friends are doing.  We read blogs which are just personalized, serialized soap operas of people’s lives.  We poke and prod and voyeur ourselves into other people’s worlds.

TV was more harmless because you were a passive observer of the content.  You sat back and were fed, but could choose to tune out at any time without batting an eyelash.  Because of the dependency of Web 2.0 on the user to be the content generator, the channel will effectively die without you.  This increases an importance and an urgency to our participation in the web, and creates even a stronger addiction to it.

The internet is becoming smarter, too.  Now you can set up all kinds of ways to get just the content you want.  Just want news from the conservative rags?  Just want to know what Billy or Sally is doing all day long?  Want to read everything WhiteEyebrows is thinking?  Just subscribe, tune in, and lose yourself in the content of the day.

Not only can you create your own channels of information, but you can hyper-personalize your channel to fit only that which you are most interested in.  This is evidence that even though the world continually expands, our minds and worldviews continue to narrow. We, by choice, limit our exposure to that which we are comfortable with and the chances become less and less that we will ever be exposed to things outside of our comfort zone.

I’m not saying this is all bad, just making an observation of the trend that we seem to be following.  I certainly don’t want you to discontinue following my little soap opera here on  In fact, why don’t you ‘Web 2.0’ yourself and comment already!

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