How Web 2.0 Could Collapse One Day

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Imagine one day, you hop on to Facebook, the news feed however, is the same as it was a couple of months ago when you last logged on. You had only logged on to check on your aunt in a distant country who was moving. She hadn’t posted. The ads were fresh. The news feed was stale. You hop on over to Twitter, but not much is happening there either. Or Instagram and the TikTok videos seem stale and you recall some of them from before. You spend most of your time on Reddit as it’s still active and the new platform Bazinga because it has no ads and survives because of micropayments via Social Tokens to the folks that keep it going.

Sounds a bit of a stretch? Maybe not. One day around the middle of the 16th century, the Inca empire seems to have dissolved. People went from living in large, highly organised and well administered cities to villages and towns scattered all over the countryside. This happened with the Mayan empire and research shows us, to civilizations in Sumer and in the Levantine valley. In fact, it’s happened many, many times throughout human history. Sometimes it’s the result of plagues and natural disasters. But more often than not, it’s been due to people deciding they just really don’t like the idiot and his hangers-on who run the place. So they leave.

We talk of Web3 and this novel idea of decentralization and people running the world of Web3. Some even suggest this idea of the metaverse (it’s still just an idea) being run “by the people for the people.” These ideas are touted as new and revolutionary. They are neither. Native American societies were decentralized for thousands of years and experimented with political systems far before and for longer, than Western European cultures. And it is the modern Western European idea of the State, how it’s governed and current capitalism that frames the way we see the internet and platforms like Facebook, Twitter and TikTok.

This is also why we tend to think that these platforms are the way they are and that they are just too big to fail. MySpace (anyone remember that platform?) was said to have failed because Facebook came along and others and they were better and more advanced. In part, yes. But not entirely. Another part of that failure was MySpace also became culturally irrelevant. MySpace was unable to adapt to changes in digital culture and a society that was becoming more digital.

Sometimes, the collapse of a civilization happens overnight and very suddenly. But this is not always the case. Abandonment can also take time as citizens in a society gradually grow disillusioned with how the place is run, a series of bad leaders or a slow change in how people want to be governed. Human societies have shrugged off different polities over many thousands of years. For most of the modern world, we tend to view things through a Western European, colonialist/imperialist lens. But when one steps back and looks down through history, you gain a different perspective.

Web 2.0 is currently in the middle, or perhaps later stages, of a massive shift in how people think. It became dominated by Tech Giants. Centralized platforms that make the real money, who serve shareholders and turn consumers into products, that thrive on personal data. Web3, or at least the idea of it, is the opposite. Web 2.0 won’t entirely go away, much of the underlying structure and technologies are necessary, but what may well disappear is many of the platforms and applications residing on it.

Web3 isn’t so much about technology as it is about how consumers want a return to truly free and open markets, where they can get the value back that a centralized system today controls. It is also about how citizens want to be governed. Technocrats like Elon Musk say Web3 doesn’t exist, including Jack Dorsey, Twitter founder. Both are right and wrong. Wrong in that they don’t look at Web3 from a sociocultural perspective. They look at it from a Human-as-a-Product (HaaP)perspective and how the technology works. They’re missing what really drives massive change. Humans. Acting as humans. Not users.

And this is why Web 2.0 could disappear in the coming years. We should keep in mind that technology has no opinion, it does not and never will, care about anything. Technology does what humans tell it to do. Humans have a tendency to do things unexpectedly.

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Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Giles Crouch | Digital Anthropologist

Digital / Cultural Anthropologist | Featured in Wired, National Geographic & Forbes | Celt | Explorer | Intensely Curious