By: Ilya LeVangie
November 5, 2023
We’ve all heard the maxim “The internet is forever.” Our parents and educators have repeated the phrase as a warning against putting anything “unsavory” out on the web. However, what about the things we do want to last forever? What about the art, music and information that has been made available through the internet, and in some cases, only exists on the internet?
The internet is still relatively young in its existence, but it has become a dominant force in people’s lives. Billions of web pages exist on the internet, and only a small chunk of those are used in our daily lives. Over the last 20 years, the internet has seen some major changes in its landscape. From AOL forums to Myspace to Adobe Flash, we’ve seen internet staples rise and fall, despite their cultural impact. Currently we’re watching X (formerly Twitter) undergo massive changes, leading to what some are predicting will be its downfall under Elon Musk.
We’ve also seen huge changes in the way people consume media like television and music. Streaming services have dominated the industry for the past ten years. Currently, Spotify and Apple Music are the two main competitors in the music streaming business, while CDs have fallen from nearly a billion in sales in 1999 to less than 50 million in 2022. When it comes to television and movies, streaming services such as Netflix have completely changed the industry. DVD sales had fallen by at least 86% in 2019, compared to their pre-Netflix numbers—although it should be noted that DVDs are still a billion dollar industry on their own.
These extreme changes in the way we consume media are then highlighted when streaming companies such as HBO remove large sections of their catalog, some of which have no other legal means to be watched. Of course, this does not mean that there isn’t a way to watch these movies and shows, with illegal streaming sites being a dime a dozen. However, if you aren’t internet savvy enough to avoid potential viruses on these sites, or you’re looking for a higher quality version of the show, there may be no options for you.
Beyond the major film and music industries, there have been many new forms of content created on the internet. YouTubers and Twitch streamers have become prevalent content creators in many people’s lives, and many illustrators and artists primarily post their art on social media sites like Instagram and X.
There is also content that almost exclusively belongs to the internet such as alternate reality games, which rely on the specific nuances of using the internet, such as hyperlinks, personal websites and platforms like YouTube. All of this content relies on the internet landscape as it is today. It relies on the websites it’s hosted on to be up and running indefinitely, and in the case of changing codes and functionality, it needs to be updated with the times, which is not always possible. Time and change is causing pieces of art and culture to be lost on the internet.
However, not all hope is lost with the longevity of internet content. Websites such as The Internet Archive and the Wayback Machine have undergone the huge task of archiving internet (and non-internet) related content in an attempt to provide digital archives. The work of these sites is monumental, especially when looking at the failure of the Library of Congress to archive all of Twitter in 2017. That being said, legal troubles abound with sites like these, and The Internet Archive is still fighting book publishers on the legality of their ebook lending services.
In response to these massive changes in the internet landscape, and the apparently ephemeral nature of internet content, people have recently begun turning to physical media. In part driven by nostalgia, vinyl record sales have gone up from nearly zero, and Polaroid cameras have made a comeback. Physical media is perhaps about to start a real renaissance, prompted by the ways in which the internet has reminded us of its ephemeral nature. It is time to embrace the new reality: the internet is no longer forever.
Ilya LeVangie is a senior majoring in English and Professional and Public Writing, with minors in Music and Russian. They are planning to go to grad school for an MFA in creative writing, and teach English at a community college afterwards. His free time is spent making art and people watching.