I watched an old episode of “Halt and Catch Fire” this evening. If you’ve not seen it, the show ran for four seasons, and broadly told the story of the 1980s computer revolution, the birth of the internet, and latterly the world wide web. The story was told through the lives of a small group of people that cross through many of the defining moments of those decades – sometimes by luck, sometimes by foresight.
There is a monologue towards the end of the third season, where one of the characters is trying to describe not so much what the future might hold for the World Wide Web (which in the time-line of the show had just been invented by Tim Berners Lee), but that the Web wasn’t the important thing – and neither was the Browser – it was all about the means of getting to the place you’re going.
The internet, the web, and the browser were “the thing that gets us to the thing”. You might even argue that directories such as Yahoo, and latterly the search engines were a further extension of that – because we don’t set off in search of pictures or words – we set off in search of the subject of those pictures, and the author of those words.
When we access the internet, the thing we are trying to get to isn’t a distant computer, or a page of text, or a photograph. It is a person. Their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. It’s not about how we get there – it’s about being there.