The author of a poignant piece about the evolution of communicating on the web, Hossein Derakhshan, has also been dubbed the “blogfather” for his pioneering efforts in blogging about Iran nearly a decade ago. This thought provoking article questions the notion that the Twitters, Instagrams and Facebooks, et al, of today actually empower people as opposed to trivializing their content, and with it the power and importance of the web as it was developed long ago by Tim Berners-Lee.
Derakhshan began blogging in the aftermath of 9/11, and, due to his efforts and tenacity ( he published a step-by-step guide to blogging shortly after 9/11,) spawned an army of bloggers – hence the nickname, the ’’blogfather”. Having been imprisoned from 2008-2014 for his online activities, he emerged from prison to find the web radically different, and lamentablyin his view, diminished by today’s social media mainstays. He describes the early days like this:
“The Iranian blogosphere was a diverse crowd – from exiled authors and journalists, female diarists, and technology experts, to local journalists, politicians, clerics, and war veterans. But you can never have too much diversity”
This diversity of myriad, diverse thoughts that he encouraged is what he claims is missing in a mass of frivolous fluff that passes for relevant communication today. In his opinion, what made communication, blogging, back then so valuable was the fact that one could be sent spiraling into the world of different views, albeit controversial, in a flash, because of the appearance of a useful hyperlink. When he resumed blogging after his release from prison , he laments that in many cases on social media the hyperlink was either absent or irrelevant. He opined about hyperlinks:
“The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralisation – all the links, lines and hierarchies – and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks. Since I got out of jail, though, I’ve realised how much the hyperlink has been devalued, almost made obsolete. Nearly every social network now treats a link as just the same as it treats any other object – the same as a photo, or a piece of text. You’re encouraged to post one single hyperlink and expose it to a quasi-democratic process of liking and plussing and hearting.”
Derakhshan alleges that hyperlinks are treated as objects, and quibbles with those who would relegate them to the dustbin of oblivion. He maintains that hyperlinks are not lifeless items or space-fillers, but living opportunities to go and explore the treasures of divergent thought. Meanwhile, while these sites are neutering expression by trivializing hyperlinks, they tend to glorify contemporaneous drivel and fatuous photos excessively. He reverently refers to hyperlinks as the “skeleton of the web”, and “eyes, a path to its soul.” A webpage without hyperlinks is akin, in his mind, to a day without sunshine, and portends grave consequences for the future direction of online communication.
He blames the fixation of today’s trendy sites on popularity and newness, at the expense of exploring and satisfying the public’s appetite for knowledge. This is evident, according to Derakhshan, in the glorification of young celebrities. One might also conclude that the streaming phenomenon is an extension of this, as people are more frequently denied access to links so there may be explored further. Expanding on this theme he says:
“The stream means you don’t need to open so many websites any more. You don’t need numerous tabs. You don’t even need a web browser. You open the Facebook app on your smartphone and dive in. The mountain has come to you. Algorithms have picked everything for you.”
The author’s pain, passion, and angst are apparent throughout the article, as he sees users rating content not for substance, but ,for its visual appeal that, by the way, is expertly personalized and presented because the hosting site has determined what our likes are. He calls out Instagram as the biggest offender, and points out the perils of the popularity/streaming craze. Voting by hearting and such may work to affect reactions for things like consumer goods, but in today’s complicated and often dangerous world a cursory glance at fluff in front of us doesn’t allow for the in-depth debate, exploration, and exchange of ideas that can come from things like hyperlinks.