The World Wide Web After 30 Years
Thirty years after it was invented, the Web is now used in ways that its inventor never intended. What is at the root of its problems, and can it be fixed?
This month the World Wide Web turned 30 years old. The invention of the Web gave birth to the Information Age and has revolutionized the way we live and interact with one another. We use it to share information, communicate, educate ourselves, make a living, be entertained and shop. It’s difficult to imagine a world without it.
The invention of the Web is attributed to Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He initially invented it as a tool for scientists to share information. He was working at CERN (the European particle physics laboratory) and was frustrated that the different laboratories had separate computer systems, which meant there was no easy way to share data between them. He foresaw a system where computers all around the world could be connected, creating a network that would allow data to be published and accessible globally.
As they say, the rest is history.
One would think that the Web’s creator would have nothing but pride for his creation, since it arguably ranks with electricity and the automobile as one of history’s most successful and culturally transformative inventions. But that is not exactly how he feels. To mark the 30th anniversary of his invention, Sir Berners-Lee released a letter lamenting what his invention has become and how it is being used today.
Sir Berners-Lee’s concerns about his creation
Here are some of the concerns Sir Berners-Lee has with what the Web has become today:
- Hate and division: Hatred and distasteful content spread easily on the Web. Sir Berners-Lee originally intended the Web to be a medium to spread helpful knowledge. But now it is also used to spread content like pornography, hate speech and incitement to kill or inflict harm on others. Social media platforms like Twitter seem to thrive on hate and division. Online debate today is fueled by outrage and lies (or half-truths) parading as facts.
- Information control: Sir Berners-Lee intended it to be used for the free flow of information that benefits humanity. But he sees it instead being widely used for “state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behavior and online harassment.” Many countries censor the Web to limit what their citizens can see and think in order to control them.
- Nonbeneficial advertising: Many Internet companies have found ways to grab users’ attention through clickbait advertisements. The desire to get clicks leads advertisers to use catchy or even misleading headlines intended to trick the user into visiting a page.
- Viral misinformation: In traditional news media, journalists research and investigate stories, write them up and then submit them to be verified. But news stories of questionable accuracy spread like wildfire on social media and biased websites, often without anyone confirming the story.
- User privacy: Much of our personal information is now held and controlled by major tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook. This data can be (and has been) misused and is always at risk of being hacked and stolen.
Given these issues, Sir Berners-Lee aims to fix the Web—to protect it so that it benefits all users and the world community.
Fixing the Web
To address his concerns with his creation, in November 2018 Sir Berners-Lee announced a program called the “Contract for the Web” at the Web Summit tech conference in Lisbon, Portugal. The plan includes lofty goals, including:
- That all governments ensure the Internet is free and accessible and that personal privacy is respected.
- That Internet service providers provide affordable Internet service that protects users’ privacy.
- That individuals pledge to respect civil discourse that honors human dignity and makes the Internet safe for everyone.
Sir Berners-Lee’s goals are good and certainly would improve the Web. But are they realistic? Is today’s Web too massive for its creator to have any ability to change it for the better?
Finding fault with them
Sir Berners-Lee is not the only one who has lamented what his creation became.
In the early chapters of the Bible we read that God experienced a similar feeling. God actually lamented how evil mankind had become. God saw that the “earth was filled with violence” and “was corrupt” because of man’s “wickedness” and “evil” (Genesis 6:5, 11-12). As a result, God actually “grieved in His heart” over what mankind had become (verse 6). Because of this, He made the decision to destroy humanity with a flood and to start over with Noah and his family.
The reality is that the evil on the Web is not really the fault of the invention itself, but is a reflection of the deteriorating character of those who use itSadly, the Bible predicts that our world will again become very similar to how it was in the days of Noah (Matthew 24:37). A look at the world around us, particularly human behavior on the Web, shows us we are approaching those days. It is not just religious people who see this, but even technology leaders like Sir Berners-Lee. The reality is that the evil on the Web is not really the fault of the invention itself, but is a reflection of the deteriorating character of those who use it and the dominating spiritual influence in the world today (Revelation 12:9). Sir Berners-Lee’s plan to “fix” the Web will never work because the problem is not the World Wide Web.
The problem is us.
We are what needs to be fixed. God has given us a set of laws that teach us the right way to live. If put into practice, those laws would not just fix the Web, but would also fix every other problem in our world.
But it is not only God’s law that we need. After all, ancient Israel was given the law under the Old Covenant and still failed—because of their hearts (Hebrews 8:7-8). What they lacked was God’s Spirit, which enables a person to understand and apply the “deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
Because of this, God established a New Covenant through the death of Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:28), which allows us to receive God’s Holy Spirit—through which His laws can be written on our hearts and minds (John 7:39; Hebrews 8:10; Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Sir Berners-Lee’s plan to redeem the World Wide Web is destined to change it very little. But thankfully God has a plan to redeem mankind from the influence of an evil spirit and the core character problems that have led to the problems we have in our world, including on the Web. This plan of salvation is portrayed in seven biblical festivals. One of those festivals is called the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which teaches us to put sinfulness out and righteousness in.
That, actually, is the simplest solution to the problems Sir Berners-Lee sees with his creation.