7.08.2010

Prince Is Right: The Internet Is Over, And You Just Proved It

Prince is getting a lot of shit for his recent statement saying that the internet is "completely over." 

He's right. And all of the recent arguments about his being a "technophobe" or "fogey" are proving it, because anyone saying that clearly has no idea what they're talking about. Prince was here and selling music on the net long before iTunes.

Folks, there was a time when simply being on the internet was actually an indicator of how "cool" or "hip" or "smart" you were. It's because only those with an interest in the internet - either what was on it or how to build it - were actually on the internet. Believe it or not, you used to have to be intelligent to actually operate a computer.

The internet was once a pretty fantastic place. It was full of knowledge, facts, memes and yes, even trolling. It wasn't a perfect place, but it was "our" place - a place where those of us who actually got the culture and understood the power of the net were using it. We'd talk about some interesting fact or article or  other item we discovered on the internet, and the straights would balk and say "Oh, the INTERNET... That can be trusted..." Dating online used to be a freaky, scary, "Only a loser would do that" thing. And yet, there we were, sharing and posting and meeting people and playing games. And artists like Prince were putting their entire catalog of music online for download.

That's where I begin to shake my head. The vast majority of you weren't even online by the time Prince was selling music here. He started the NPG (New Power Generation) Network in 2000, an online marketplace selling DRM-free MP3s of his music. That was the same year Lars Ulrich was crying about Napster and whining about how the internet was killing his profits, despite the fact that Metallica was a band who was practically made from free music sharing (mixtapes).

What most of you don't understand is that saying the internet is "completely over" is not a technophobic, luddite, or even old man stance. He's not speaking about the technology; he's speaking about the culture. And it is - the internet, as we once knew it, is gone forever. It's now a commodity like television and telephone and radio. Everyone is on it. The common denominator is so much lower now.

That's not to say I'm going to leave it. I still love it, and it's done wonders for me and my career. But I will say (and it should be no secret or surprise) that I am completely over things like Twitter and "Social Media" and the novelty aspect of everything online. Now, its simply tools and channels, and I find myself avoiding and eschewing the channels where the majority of people congregate. This is not because I think of myself as hip or counter-culture or any of that bullshit; it's just because the vast majority of people are very, very, very uninteresting WHILE THINKING THEY ACTUALLY ARE INTERESTING. And they pollute and water down the medium.

The mere fact that your music or book or video is available on the net is no longer interesting. EVERYTHING IS. When Prince and Public Enemy released their catalogs and began selling albums online, it wasn't news. It wasn't even interesting, because the vast majority of today's internet audience - including the major media - weren't even here, so it wasn't relevant to them. By the time Radiohead and Trent Reznor started pulling "pay what you want" schemes and selling millions, it attracted attention because critical mass had been reached. It was now relevant, because yes, they were selling millions. But that's because millions of their fans were now online. Note that I'm not saying millions of people, I'm saying millions of their fans - a much smaller subgroup. When Prince and Public Enemy did it in 2000, they had millions of fans, but not millions of fans ONLINE. They were releasing into a medium that held a fraction of their base. And they did it because selling 60,000 records online paid them 10 times what selling six million records in record stores did, and it made sense.

I don't hate the internet. Far from it; the internet has given me a career and continues to do so. My only point is that, culturally, "The Internet" IS over. It's a commodity now. The fact that you're on the internet doesn't guarantee that you understand it, as it once did. The content on the internet has increased several orders of magnitude; you are no longer assured of a particular level or quality of content anymore. "The Internet" is over. The internet is now just another tool; another communication medium. But in that, there's really quite an amazing amount of potential. Now, you aren't a star just because you create content on the net - you actually have to create GOOD content, because you're competing against EVERYONE.

Or, you have to do very clever marketing things like going out in public and declaring that the internet is "totally over." Because that's what this is, after all - just a PR stunt by an accomplished musician who knows how to get attention. Not that it's necessarily a good thing; he's merely heading into new territory marketing-wise and seeing if "not being on the internet" actually results in increased record sales... Because "The Internet" is over. Being here means exactly nothing in terms of being something special or unique or original.