The Internet at 40: Its Top 10 Achievements

The internet is 40 years old this week, at least if you count its progenitor ARPANET, the government project that first switched packets between two computer hosts.

A lot of digital water has flowed under the bridge since then, and we take this opportunity to celebrate the medium and its 10 greatest achievements.

10. The internet bubble. How did millions of us wind up hunched over laptops for a living instead of doing something useful? Thank the massive flow of venture capital in the late 1990s to every black-jacket-and-black-t-shirt entrepreneur who promised the next Amazon and all its riches to whoever believed in his cocktail-napkin dreams. Thence came UrbanFetch, Pets.com, and the eTrade "Well, we just wasted two million bucks" Super Bowl ad, which we believe defined the era and ruined our lives.

9. The death of journalism. For years people handed cumbersome metal coins to newsdealers, who in return handed them hunks of dead tree bearing inkblots signifying recent events. Now the coins mostly stay in the citizens' pockets as they receive what was once quaintly called "news" from web authors explaining that newspapers are dead and the President is a Soviet agent. Much more efficient and economical! And it gave Jeff Jarvis a new job.

8. Amazon. Bookstores and libraries slide into irrelevance as users get their readables from online vendors. Less time-consuming scanning of racks for interesting titles and blurbs -- more recommendations from Users Like You and confirmation of your own prejudices.

7. Craigslist. Pennysavers and classifieds wither as users find they can use this simple internet device to find apartments, used furniture, sex, guns, and death. The cops may hassle them, but there's always something else out there to pick up the slack. And that's what makes the internet great.

6. Newer, faster outrages. "Miley Cyrus sister sparks internet outrage," "Surprisingly, internet outrage builds on rumors," "Internet outrage: 60 more suicides," etc. You used to hear about these things in papers or on TV or over the back fence and cluck your tongue. Now you can get them at lightning speed and post comments on them likewise. Not the type to stay mad long? Don't worry, you don't have to! The internet is an outrage aggregator that gets faster all the time, leading to...

5. Our poisonous civil discourse. Accusations of treason and madness once confined to nutcake clusters are now readily available at a keystroke, constituting the lingua franca of our age and driving that screaming mess that is our national politics. We do our part!

4. Search engines. We can't complain. They do a lot of our work for us. They also give ambitious marketers something else to try and game, and help drive the economy, such as it is. And the big ones are surprisingly accommodating of, uh, local customs.

3. YouTube. Remember when you wasted time at work by reading things? Boy, was that lame. Now you can be one of the 389,788 people who have seen a teen cry blood. Trailers, home movies, ancient pornography -- it's almost fun to go to the office now.

2. The Hamster Dance. Lest we forget.

1. Celebrity nudes!


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