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Welcome to Web Hell

by David Vest

Practically every major mainstream web site I like to visit has gotten significantly worse over the past few months.

By worse I mean slower, uglier, more cumbersome, more likely to be down, and more intrusive.

Even trusty old Yahoo, long known for speed and simplicity, is noticeably slower. Worse, like many other sites, Yahoo now opens a second, unwanted, browser window whenever I go there, which I have to close before I can read the news.

I have no idea what is in this second window. I refuse to look at it. So far, not one word of text, not one image has registered in my consciousness.

But I am pretty sure it is nothing I want to see.

Even newsgroups have become minefields. They are full of devastating traps for the unwary. You click on a header to download an innocent-looking message. You quickly discover that not only have you opened a new browser window that very much doesn’t want you to close it, you have also detonated an infernal graphics-laden program that won’t go away. Opening the browser means you have ingested “cookies” that tell whoever dropped this “smart bomb” who you are and what sites you visited lately, and who’s dumb enough to click on this message twice.

A short while later you will of course begin to receive e-mails from these fiends. Opening the message (or just seeing it in the preview window) opens a hard-to-close browser window that in turn opens a program that in turn … etc.

Sometimes the e-mail contains an “opt out” link, inviting you to click and remove yourself from the mailing list. Usually, clicking on this link does nothing but inform your tormentors that your e-mail address is indeed valid. This information encourages them to send you more spam and to sell your e-mail address to other spammers.

If you have a slow Internet connection, you are essentially immobilized. If you have broadband, as my brother Mike has observed, you have basically just bought the ability to download the spam faster. Not to mention the Bots and Spiders.

It’s enough to make you sorry you ever went online.

All you ever wanted in the first place was quick access to what the tech industry contemptuously regards as “content.” You look at “content” as “what I want.” They look at “content” the way home-building contractors look at the foam insulation they spray between the walls of attics with big hoses.

It’s as though the whole idea was to use our own technology against us.

That what-you-are-looking-for is what-you-in-fact-want seems never to have occurred to these people. Simply giving it to you is much too modest an undertaking for their grandiose dreams of stock options and mergers. It’s true even on subscription sites where big companies sell data to each other. To look at the information they’ve already paid for, they make each other watch inane Flash presentations, then download tons of JavaScript and bizarre graphics (you’d think they were selling graphics or licensing the right to watch menus load).

What’s next? Mandatory corporate beeper implants? Contact lenses that show commercials? Free hearing aids for people willing to listen to jingles all day? Guide dogs for the blind that lead only to the Outlet Mall?

Communicable computer viruses that can jump the gap from machines to people, the way Ebola jumped from monkeys to human beings?

The web will soon be worse than magazines. (You are in the doctor’s office. You select a magazine. Three or four loose cards and inserts fall out. You have to pick them up and do something with them. Finally, you locate the Table of Contents — and that’s not easy. There is an article you find inviting, on page 71. Try finding page 71. After page 70 come pages and pages of ads. You flip through these and find page 132 but not page 71. Perhaps you made a mistake. You go back to the Table of Contents. Muhahahaha! Just try to find it again!)

My theory is that this spammeling of America all started in department stores, on the day someone decided that leaving you a direct path from the entrance to the escalator (or to whatever you wanted to look for) was bad business. “We have pampered these people long enough,” someone must have said. “Let them enter the labyrinth.”

My fear is that what we are seeing on the web, in stores, in magazines, on CNN, with its frantically jumbled screen, is merely the reflection of what has happened to our politics, our public policy, our very lives, where the simple search for a direct path has led us, finally, somehow, to Afghanistan. CP

David Vest is a writer, poet and piano player for the Cannonballs. A native of Alabama, he now lives in Portland, Oregon. Visit his webpage for samples of the Cannonballs’ brand of take no prisoners rock & roll and other Vest columns: http://www.mindspring.com/~dcqv

DAVID VEST writes the Rebel Angel column for CounterPunch. He and his band, The Willing Victims, have just released a scorching new CD, Serve Me Right to Shuffle. His essay on Tammy Wynette is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on art, music and sex, Serpents in the Garden.

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