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​To the World Wide Web on Its 30th Birthday: Your Dad Hates You

A look back at how much the Web confused people in the 1990s and what a disappointment it's been to its father.

On its 30th birthday, the World Wide Web has a lot to answer for.

From clickbait and "fake news" to YouTube rabbit holes and global porn addictions, the Internet has birthed over two billion websites and allowed millions of people to escape reality, if only for the duration of a short puppy video. While the Internet was born long ago from the mind sex of two software engineers (and not Al Gore), the ability to create web pages that share their data with any computer was first pitched by a software engineer in Switzerland named Tim Berners-Lee. In 1989, the Web was just a "vague, but exciting" idea he had. 30 years later, it's still vague and exciting, but with "furry" communities, young revolutionaries, and this cat all sharing the same web space.

Like any disappointed father, Berners-Lee hopes the Web will get its shit together and become what he always dreamed it'd be. In fact, for its 30th birthday, he wrote up a "contract" detailing how it can become a "public good" rather than a means of hacking, harassment, and hate speech. Berners-Lee wants to see the Web grow "from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible, and inclusive future" by associating with fewer assholes and laying off the porn. On Tuesday, he gave the sort of patronizing, useless advice that any well-meaning father gives, "The Contract for the Web recognizes that whether humanity, in fact, is constructive or not actually depends on the way you write the code of the social network." Whatever that means, dad.

The truth is no one's ever been able to describe the Web accurately. In the 1990s, it was an absurd concept to introduce to people, and no one escaped puns on the term "Web-surfing" or cringey commercials with first generation special effects. Let's look back on people's struggles to understand the Web and all its behavioral problems.

1. This Scholastic book cover was just one of many examples that confused children about literally surfing the Web, because Back to the Future debuted in 1985 and had 90s kids waiting for their hoverboards.

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2. Adults weren't spared from the "Web-surfing" confusion either, as this 90s TIME cover seems to depict a man who's been in a terrible accident involving his computer monitor and his hallucinations about CDs, convertibles, and a bottle of booze.

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3. At least some explanations were useful. This VHS instructional video from 1997 featured four youths defining fraught terms like "chat lines" and "web pages" for kids (at one point, the most relatable child actor of the 90s asks, "What's a web page? Something ducks walk on?!"). It also gave step-by-step instructions on how to email your president. Too bad it doesn't explain what the fuck a VCR is.

The Kids' Guide to the Internet youtu.be

4. Thankfully, art is a universal language that helped explain the concepts of a URL address and how information lives in the sky.

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5. Celebrities have always been ahead of the curve. Here Friends stars Jennifer Aniston and Matthew Perry show off their advanced knowledge of computers, the Web, and how to sacrifice your friends' souls to feed the Internet demons.

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Happy 30th birthday, World Wide Web! Thanks for Reddit and breaking up with dial-up connections.

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Meg Hanson is a Brooklyn-based writer, teacher and jaywalker. Find Meg at her website and on Twitter @megsoyung.


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